Thomas Cheshire, PhD., Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Name:  Thomas Cheshire, PhD.

Occupation:  Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

About me:  There is no short story about me, and my path to my current position as Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) is not straightforward. I have learned there is no “right” path in life, and finding our way is what defines and distinguishes us.

First, I should tell you that I am an albino—terrible eyesight, highly sensitive to light, and no melanin in my skin—born in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Having poor vision has been a challenge throughout my life, not the least of which in the classroom when I could not see what the teacher was writing on the chalkboard. Though I was never reluctant to ask for help if I needed it—being self-sufficient and independent has always been very important to me—from early age on I often found myself doing extra reading through my textbooks to be sure I was keeping up with the class.

My first taste of higher education was at Virginia Tech. Against my family’s advice, I earned degrees in political science and philosophy rather than following in my father’s footsteps into computer science. I wholeheartedly embraced the deeper questions in my classes, and loved to discuss metaphysics, logic, and epistemology for hours with my friends. Following graduation, I continued to be curious, but decided to shift gears. I began to work my way through restaurant kitchens in New York and San Francisco, climbing my way up the culinary ladder. It should not be a surprise that I made up for my impaired vision in the kitchen by learning to cook using my other senses, but also by leveraging my sense of curiosity. Though I technically left my philosophy studies behind, I continued to ask questions constantly—pressing chefs to tell me everything they knew—and pushed myself to learn the science behind cooking.

After more than a decade of fumbling for an amateurish understanding of “molecular gastronomy”, a coworker convinced me that we should enroll in Brooklyn College to study chemistry. It did not take long for me to realize that I loved not only chemistry, but physics and mathematics as well. In fact, by the time I was studying physical chemistry and quantum mechanics, I had begun to think that it was no longer the deep questions in food science I was interested in, but rather the deep questions of our physical world, reminding me of the curiosity I had studying philosophy.

As a graduate student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, I studied theory in an ultrafast nonlinear spectroscopy lab. My advisor, Dr. Andy Moran, encouraged me to spend a lot of time in the laser-lab, to understand the experiments the group designed by walking around the laser-table, and to consider the ways measurements can and cannot be controlled. I learned to “walk around” problems to discover new solutions. In parallel to modeling new spectroscopic techniques the group was developing, I began to apply analogues of those models to relaxation dynamics.

About My Work: At LBL, I am part of a Department of Energy Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program lead by Dr. Frances Houle and centered on the study of solar harvesting devices such as dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC) and dye-sensitized photoelectrosynthesis cells (DSPEC). My contribution has been to investigate and develop a comprehensive model for the ultrafast photophysics of the molecules used in DSSC and DSPEC devices. I apply my knowledge of spectroscopy (light-matter interactions) and nonlinear dynamics (molecular transitions not involving the absorption nor emission of a photon) to extend traditional chemical kinetics to simulate complicated experimental data of molecules used in solar energy conversion. What does all of this mean? I hope to help make using our sun’s energy as efficient and affordable as possible by “walking around” the problem.

As part of my work at the Lab, I lead a team of researchers from multiple institutions around the country to compile data from several studies for meta-analysis, to perform electronic structure calculations, and to simulate time-resolved spectroscopic signals. Together, we are able to build on each other’s expertise to identify gaps in our knowledge and ways in which to fill them. I am fortunate to work with seasoned spectroscopists, physical chemists, inorganic chemists, materials scientists, and computational chemists, each providing perspective I would surely not have on my own. Our meetings often resolve one question, only to uncover ten new questions, but this I have learned is the nature of conducting research.

Advice About Entering the Field: For those that absolutely love learning, unlearning, relearning, and repeat, research and academia are the perfect thorny rose; but research and academia are NOT for everyone. Academia should not be entered into lightly. The life of an academic entails constantly being under scrutiny and learning to live with rejection, and sometimes failure. Whether it is referees reviewing a submitted publication or grant, the broader community evaluating your conclusions, or society as a whole deciding the value of your field, it is taxing to endure unceasing judgement of your work. Equally frustrating, as researchers we can and do fail, often. While it is never easy to admit we are wrong, or see a project fall apart, it is important as researchers to remember that in science failure is inevitable. The best we can do is to learn from our mistakes and move on to the next project. Regardless of constantly being under the microscope, I am delighted that I get to spend my time diving into the deep end of molecular interactions. I have an endless supply of puzzles and can work with colleagues across multiple disciplines. My favorite part of being an academic is the interaction with students, mentees, and attendees at talks. Despite often feeling anxious, more than anything else, I enjoy sharing what I have learned. Teaching, advising, and giving talks allows me to give back to the community that has helped transition me from a philosopher, to a restaurant worker, to a researcher at a national lab.

Yev Lushtak, PhD., Vacuum Scientist (Research Associate III) at the Cornell Laboratory for Accelerator-based ScienceS and Education (CLASSE)

Name:  Yev Lushtak

Yev Lushtak (center) with family

Occupation:  Vacuum Scientist (Research Associate III) at the Cornell Laboratory for Accelerator-based ScienceS and Education (CLASSE)

About me:  I would like to speak a little about my background.  Frankly, before discovering physical chemistry, my background was mainly in truancy and computer games.

I came to the US (SF Bay Area) from Ukraine in 1996.  The US science and mathematics high school curriculum is quite a bit behind its post-Soviet counterpart and I very quickly was hopelessly bored.  I subsequently dropped out of school several times and, ultimately, decided that finishing high school was not on the table.  I wanted to become an airplane mechanic and a writer, but my family insisted a college diploma was non-optional, regardless of what I may do afterwards.  Luckily, community college did not require a high school diploma.  I spent some time working at a butcher shop (very valuable experience, but that is a tale for another day) and, in 2002, I started at Diablo Valley College (DVC), initially majoring in mathematics. 

DVC is a great community college.  In fact, the science and math classes offered there were far more rigorous than some of the ones I took at a four-year university afterwards.  I initially had a terrible time of it for a number of reasons:  I was not very motivated since I had not found an academic subject I was excited about, I had no study skills, and, frankly, I could not force myself to learn anything I found “uninteresting”; the latter defined as whatever I happened to feel was beneath me at the time.  Furthermore, calculus without physics to back it up is a boring affair.  I got a lot of Cs during my first year, barely passing vector calculus. 

I switched to a chemistry major during my second year, after having taken an intro class and finding it somewhat enjoyable.  I did better than with mathematics (with the single exception of a C in organic chemistry) but, frankly, I did not feel a particular affinity for chemistry at that point.  It was at most interesting enough that I did not feel that I would ultimately abandon it.  Eventually, I found a great deal of affinity for physics (and it turned out that I had retained calculus despite the poor grades), but that happened after I had already been accepted as a transfer to a few schools under the chemistry major.  Rather than having to incur the fallout that was sure to follow upon telling my family that I would take another year at community college and change majors, I went with chemistry.  My first physical chemistry course changed my attitude.  Within weeks of starting, I knew I was going to pursue a PhD.   Working towards a tangible goal helped me stay motivated and I got As in most classes past that point.

I was offered admission to CUNY in 2008, however, my acceptance went unrecorded due to a clerical error.  By the time I checked in after having not heard from the school for some time, I found that the class of 2008 was full; therefore, I would have take a year off and reapply.  I was already en-route to NYC, having officially moved out of my Berkeley apartment and there was little I could do beyond taking an adjunct job and waiting.  Dr. Mark Kobrak recommended me for teaching organic chemistry recitation and lab; the prospect was a bit scary given my less than stellar performance in that class in college.  Luckily, it turned out that the advanced organic and computation chemistry classes I took in the latter college years greatly advanced my understanding of the subject and what had been a daunting affair, rife with flash cards and (ugh) memorizing, was reduced to understanding nucleophile-electrophile interactions and molecular orbital theory.  Therefore, the difficulty was mainly getting over my social anxiety and being firm with students.  I taught many courses while pursuing my PhD; including intro classes (difficult because students do not tend to have any mathematics background and tend to lose interest), a statistical thermodynamics lecture (which significantly tested my knowledge of my chosen sub-discipline), and even organic chemistry lecture.  None were more memorable than that first assignment because it made me face my social anxiety and imposter syndrome head-on, and that was tremendously helpful in my career.

I did my PhD research at Queens College (under Dr. Cherice Evans) and at the Synchrotron Radiation Center in Wisconsin.  The project was developing a novel photoemission method and it involved learning a lot about particle accelerators, synchrotron beamilines, spectroscopy, mechanical design, etc.  And, while I had trouble finding a postdoctoral position without having intimate knowledge of whatever spectroscopic technique was in fashion that year, the very diverse foundation of skills served me well in the future.  The project also awakened a love for particle accelerators that it with me to this day.

I graduated in 2013, and, after a year of teaching at all manner of CUNYs and SUNYs, while vainly looking for postdoc or a professorship, I ultimately convinced myself that perhaps taking a technical sales job was not the end of the world.  That was probably the best decision of my career.  The job required an advanced science degree, made ample use of particle accelerator knowledge, and forced me to build a network.  The latter being something I had neglected to do while in school.  I was involved with a number of major projects (I am still on the vacuum committee for next Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), for instance).  The regular raises, promotions, and bonuses certainly did not hurt, but I knew I did not want to continue the commercial work indefinitely. 

Our daughter was born in 2017, making the frequent travel inherent in a technical sales job difficult to bare.  In 2018, I leveraged my network and the Computer Aided Design (CAD)/simulation skills I had made part of my job (to a partial chagrin of my supervisors) to get a vacuum scientist position at Cornell University.  I go into detail below, but it is as if this job is tailor-made for me.

About My Work:

I am a vacuum scientist at the Cornell Laboratory for ScienceS and Education (CLASSE).  This position exists somewhere between accelerator physicist and engineer.  Engineers are better-versed in CAD but lack the necessary physics background, while the accelerator physicists are proficient in the ins and outs of beam manipulation better but lack understanding of the other relevant systems, as well as generally not being versed in system design and vacuum components.   The vacuum scientist exists at the interface, often taking on tasks from both realms.  The position as I have made it requires knowledge of vacuum chamber design, simulation (notably of calculating stresses and gas pressures), gas/surface chemistry, and instrumentation.  Understanding the behavior of complex vacuum systems goes far beyond kinetic gas theory and requires thorough knowledge of gas conductance as well as of a breadth of pumping and measuring devices; understanding magnet optics, Radio Frequency (RF) systems, and experimental constraints is also important.

I like this job because it is never boring.  There is always something new to learn and whether one decides to focus on a particular aspect is up to the scientist, the job description being somewhat vague.  For instance, I spend at least a few hours per month learning more accelerator physics and I learned to do Finite Element Analysis (FEA) on the job; focusing on these items is not required but I enjoy them, and it brings a flavor I like to the experience. Recently, I have become recognized as an authority on FEA and therefore I get to tackle increasingly advanced projects.  Sometimes, there is a need for going off the deep end with obscure methods and equipment.  This is a great job for someone with many interests.

CLASSE houses a particle accelerator complex, and we do a lot of photocathode and accelerator research.  For instance, we recently completed the CBETA project that will pave the way for very efficient energy-recovering linear accelerators.  Nowadays, the main attraction is the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS).  It is an X-Ray user facility, meaning that on top of our internal research, scientists from all over the world use our beamlines to various spectroscopy and imaging.  Structural biology and material science are big-ticket items at the moment, but we are equipped to adapt to new needs as they arise.  

The Cornell Electron/positron Storage Ring (CESR) is a circular positron storage ring (we currently do not use electrons, but we have in the past and may do so again) that is used to create high-intensity X-Rays and send them to beamlines.  I mostly work on CESR but I have recently started also working on beamline optics.  In any cyclical particle accelerator, highly-relativistic particles are kept in orbit with magnetic fields as they traverse narrow-aperture vacuum chambers.  A positron beam of a non-trivial current stored at and energy 6 GeV produces intense light, which in-turn deposits extreme power densities (sometimes as much as 4 kW/m) on vacuum chamber walls, therefore, thermal load mitigation is very important.  Chamber aperture transitions must be gentle enough to avoid significant Higher Order Mode Loss (HOML) heating.  Furthermore, the maximum acceptable gas pressure in the chambers is around 1 nanoTorr, therefore, vacuum pumping is a huge concern as well.  I design vacuum chambers, run stress and deformation FEAs, and perform vacuum simulations. The latter often requires tailored Python code to get around software limitations.  CESR is an old facility, with portions of the accelerator complex having been built in the 1960s.  It was repurposed many times, initially being used for particle collisions with static targets, then transitioning to positron/electron collisions, then to studying electron cloud effects on positron beam storage, and finally to a dedicated X-ray source.  Charged particles traversing magnetic fields always produce synchrotron radiation, therefore, as far back as the 1980s, some of this radiation was used for beamline experiments.  At first, bending magnet radiation was used parasitically.  This was followed by installation of a few insertion devices (undulators and wigglers); the latter produce better-quality light (more monochromatic, better-focused, etc.).   However, given that X-ray production was not the main event, so to speak, geometric and magnetic field limitations made achieving high-brightness beams impossible.  In 2018, a major upgrade recast CESR as pretty much entirely an X-ray facility.  Since parts of the accelerator are quite old, with people who had designed various components retired or dead, maintenance presents interesting (and frequent) challenges.  The vacuum scientists tend to be the first link in the maintenance chain, either fixing things right away or deciding which specialist is called in.  Therefore, knowledge of all accelerator systems is important.  Again, as someone who cannot commit to a discipline, I enjoy this quite a bit. 

Advice About Entering the Field: There are a few lessons to be learned from this story.  First, the path to success (as vague at that is as a concept) only makes sense in hindsight; it is rife with detours and seeming dead ends.  Second, it is always possible to learn something useful even if one’s career path has not been sorted; no one will take your thirst for knowledge away and it is smart to indulge it.  Third, there is always room for a comeback.  And, fourth, and most importantly, networking is everything.  Technical skills matter little if there is nowhere to apply them.  These days finding a job requires getting through layers of recruiters and HR, and, unless you are a known specialist in whatever technique they are hiring for, getting through is nigh impossible without friends on the inside. 

As for the job, sadly, vacuum scientists are becoming increasingly rare.  Most likely for budgetary reasons, facilities tend to pile the duties on mechanical engineers.  I will reserve judgement of this practice since many of my friends are mechanical engineers; suffice it to say, I feel like there is room for both.  Also, unfortunately, post-doctoral assignments have gradually migrated from the “do something new” realm to the “cheap labor” realm.  The latter tends to require experience with similar experiments to what is being performed on top of offering little new breadth to one’s knowledge.  I find that exceedingly unfun and therefore I recommend being a generalist (mid-level knowledge of a lot of things makes it easy to close the gaps as needed) and using one’s network heavily; physical chemistry offers a better foundation than other chemistry subdisciplines or physics, but knowledge is more important than the type of PhD.  Taking a commercial job for building a network while continuing to hone technical skills worked for me.  That might not work for everyone, but I think it should be on every young scientist’s radar.

I should also say also that it is a good idea to be familiar with the X-ray facility (often called light sources or just synchrotrons) world since these house thousands of interesting science and engineering jobs.  There maybe not many vacuum scientist positions per se but there are dozens of chemists/biologists/physicists working as beamline scientists in each facility.  The latter positions tend to be a bit more focused, but they offer many new challenges and ways to learn something new.

Lukman Solola, PhD., Reseach Scientist at Axalta Coating Systems

Name:  Lukman Solola


Occupation:  Research scientist at Axalta Coating Systems

About me: I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and immigrated to Brooklyn in the winter of 2007. About a year later, I enrolled in Brooklyn College where I pursued an undergraduate degree in Chemistry. In 2010, I was accepted into the Minorities Access to Research Careers (MARC) program and got the opportunity to work in the labs of Profs. Mark Kobrak, Sanchez Delgado and Luis Quadri. The MARC program also facilitated short research internships at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins University of Medicine in the summers of 2010 and 2011 respectively. The effects of these experiences were two-fold. Firstly, it solidified my interest in pursuing a research career while exposing me to the expectations and possible struggles that accompany the pursuit of a doctoral degree. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I was able to interact with other minority scientists, which gave me the confidence to pursue a research career.

After graduating in 2012, I moved to Philadelphia and began my doctoral studies in the research group of Professor Eric Schelter at the University of Pennsylvania. My research work at Penn focused on designing strategies for the synthesis and stabilization inorganic complexes featuring multiple bonds between lanthanides and main group elements. Grad school can be brutal especially at the beginning. However, things do eventually get better if you are passionate, willing to learn from your mistakes and persevere.

About My Work: I currently work as a researcher at Axalta Coating Systems’ Global Innovation Center (GIC) located in Philadelphia. I like to think of my job as having two sides. On one hand, I design experiments, coordinate and manage associate investigators who are responsible for running said experiments, analyze results which inform further studies, and write reports or patents depending on the organization’s overall strategy. On the other hand, I am responsible for communicating my work to teams either within or outside the organization in a concise and sometimes not-too-technical manner. I’ll argue that a solid graduate school education provides anyone with the requisite skillset to perform these tasks successfully. However, my time in graduate school didn’t prepare me for the sheer number of meetings I have had to attend since starting my career. More often than not, a career in industry entails working in teams of varying sizes. Since I work for a company with a global footprint, I have colleagues scattered all over the world that I have to update on the status of my projects. Thus, I have had to get used to having meetings at odd hours. While my training as an inorganic chemist plays an instrumental role in my ability to effectively do my job, I have had to develop new skill sets in order to stay relevant as a formulator. I’ve certainly earned a greater appreciation of the bulk properties of materials over the past 2 years and I like to think of myself more as a hybrid inorganic chemist/materials scientist now.

A typical day starts with a cup or two of coffee. I then spend about 20 minutes responding to emails followed by either attending an early meeting or skimming newly published journal articles or patents relevant to my projects. After this, I review results from experiments conducted the previous day and try to make sense of what they mean. The rest of my day is spent attending meetings, writing, brainstorming experiment ideas and designing said experiments.

Advice About Entering the Field: Becoming a researcher requires healthy doses of curiosity, optimism and passion. Curiosity to ask questions in the first place, optimism that the right answers or resolutions can be found and passion to keep going when it seems like absolutely nothing works.  I also believe it is essential to seek out mentors and ask as many questions as possible. My graduate training has gone a long way in developing my ability to deliver on my projects in a timely fashion, but I am also picking up new skills every day which makes my job exciting. For example, I learned how to use statistical Design of Experiments (DOE) at my job and its addition to my problem solving toolbox has been quite transformative in helping me design targeted experiments for the complex systems I work on.

Dalanda Diallo, MD, Radiologist

Name:  Dalanda Diallo


Occupation:   Diagnostic Radiologist sub-specializing in Abdominal Imaging at AdventHealth in Orlando, Florida

About me:  I grew up in Hungary. I am of mixed heritage, my mother is from Hungary and my father is from Sierra Leone. I was 15-years-old when my single mother and brother immigrated to the United States.

I realized early on that education was important. I always had a strong interest in the biosciences and naturally gravitated towards a career in medicine. I went through the public school system graduating from FDR High School and through a college fair I discovered Brooklyn College. I had plans of continuing my education in New York City and Brooklyn College was the perfect choice for me, affordable with an excellent educational platform. I discovered a gem at Brooklyn College, the late Dr. Roberto Sanchez-Delgado. I was fortunate enough that he became my mentor, with his help I was able to navigate the dynamics of college and he helped me prep for a career in medicine.

I joined Dr. Delgado’s chemistry laboratory in my sophomore year and stayed with him until graduation. I predominantly worked on synthesizing new biologically active Ruthenium-chloroquine compounds to battle chloroquine resistant strains of malaria. For this work and I was awarded the CUNY Jonas E. Salk Scholarship.

I was a member of the Brooklyn College Scholars Program while at Brooklyn College, which was an amazing environment with lots of resources and faculty who was truly invested in our success. I found this program particularly helpful for my academic needs and overall well-being. It is here that I learnt about the CUNY High Five Scholarship which covered my tuition and allowed me to focus all my efforts on studying and participating in the research lab of Dr. Delgado. 

I graduated from Brooklyn College with a BA degree in chemistry and BS in Biology. I attended medical school at SUNY Upstate Medical University, continued my training in diagnostic radiology at the University of South Florida and completed my fellowship in cross-sectional imaging at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

About My Work: As a radiologist, my day consists of lots of critical thinking and analyzing medical images to diagnose various conditions. I also perform minimally invasive procedures that utilize image guidance. My daily routine involves indirect and direct patient care and interaction with other physicians from different specialties such as surgeons and oncologists. Radiologists can participate in multidisciplinary conferences, where a team of physicians discuss treatment plans and imaging in a collaborative effort to come up with the best care for the patient.

There is actually a lot of physics and chemistry knowledge we use on the daily basis. Physics is the foundation of all our imaging modalities including radiography, ultrasound, computed tomography, nuclear medicine and magnetic resonance imaging. The chemistry knowledge I acquired in Brooklyn College formed a solid foundation that I still use today. For example there are lots of parallels between MRI and NMR spectroscopy, radioactive elements in PET/CT imaging or nuclear medicine.

Advice About Entering the Field: If you are interested in pursuing a career in medicine you will need determination, persistence and unyielding drive as the road is long, but so worth it. It is personally and professionally fulfilling. My advice is to use your college years to identify what drives you and try to align yourself with a mentor early on. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. You can visit the Chemistry Department and inquire about principal investigators and what projects they are working on. Participating in research will make you a critical thinker and will keep you curious and engaged. In my opinion these are the skills you need to be successful, not just in medicine but any career you choose to pursue. Just remember you can achieve anything in this life. The road will be challenging, but sometimes these are the challenges we need to help us grow and get better.

Marsha Lipton, CEO of Numeraire Financial

Name:  Marsha Lipton


Occupation:   CEO of Numeraire Financial, a financial consulting company


About me:  I grew up in Moscow, the Soviet Union, the country that doesn’t exist any longer. Education has always been the highest priority in my family. As a high school student, I attended a school specializing in mathematics and physics, which has shaped my thinking and approach to life. Over my sophomore year, I also developed a fascination in physical chemistry, probably inheriting this curiosity from my father, a chemical engineer.

With the determination to become a physical chemist, I passed entrance exams to the Chemistry Department at Moscow University with a perfect score and commenced my studies in math, physics, and chemistry. From my second year, I got involved with spectroscopy and quantum chemistry. I tried my best to get to such vital subjects as enzymology, biochemistry, etc. However, I always stuck thinking about why a particular reaction goes the way it does at the quantum level. In a word, quantum chemistry has always been a magnet for me. At the end of the day, I decided to do my master thesis in high-energy spectroscopy.

Well, easier said than done. At that point, nobody knew how to compute the wave function and energy levels of atoms and molecules with a missing electron in closed shells. The traditional Hartree-Fock method generated only so many excited states. Still, they never really reached the excitation level to describe missing electrons in the inner orbitals. In my master thesis, I have developed such a methodology, which was subsequently used for many years.

After I came to America, I had a dream to get a Ph.D. from Professor Karl Freed of the University of Chicago, whose works I studied and quoted extensively during my Moscow years. Working with Karl was a real honor. However, in the US, my mental curiosity made me move on and learn new things. So, I decided to sharpen other techniques and moved on to statistical physics, thermodynamics, and differential equations. The new topic was the physical properties of polymer mixtures.

Towards the third year of my Ph.D. studies, a new interest came to the fore – quantitative finance. That was a totally new turn of events for me. Still, I bravely moved on after being accepted into an MBA program at the University of Chicago. I never contemplated dropping my Ph.D. thesis, so I moved on working on two degrees at the same time and raising a newborn daughter.

It became apparent to me that my working path will take me to Wall Street, despite the interest from the Argonne National Laboratory of me joining as a postdoc.

However, my first job in London as a summer associate on the trading floor sealed my fate, and I became a derivatives trader. It was a fascinating time! The whole trading desk was packed by “refugees” from science – 90% of people had Ph.D. in Math or Physics, while the rest had advance degrees in engineering and other “hard” sciences.

About my work:  After almost 15 years in different trading positions at major trading houses, as well as running my own hedge fund, I left institutional trading and started my own financial consulting company, Numeraire Financial. We work with major financial institutions, such as banks, exchanges, hedge funds. We help them to build new models for trading, pricing financial instruments, and risk management. We are also actively involved in validating the existing models.

Having said that, the whole field of quantitative finance is changing fast, with entirely new areas, such as cryptocurrencies and security, becoming the frontlines of finance. One of the Numeraire’s partners is a preeminent specialist in all things crypto, and we are actively developing our penetration into this area.

I am still actively supervising all projects that my company is involved in. However, my most significant responsibility is developing new leads and working with existing clients to identify their needs and vulnerabilities. Obviously, my extensive trading experience is of indispensable help.

It’s hard to describe my typical day as it depends whether Numeraire has completely filled pipeline of projects or we still have spare capacity. Every day, I speak with several clients and check on all progress reports generated daily.

Doing physical chemistry was wonderful. There is no substitute for mental curiosity, and I wanted to learn about the way the world works and to discover some of those secrets myself. But my science experience is much more than just a dissertation or a diploma. My whole attitude to understanding the world, in general, and finance, in particular, was influenced by my studies in physics. I think everyone who wants to model anything in the world should study fundamental science first.

Advice About Entering the Field:  That’s a tricky question. On the one hand, there will always be a need in finance for people with excellent analytical skills, which usually attracts students to science. However, I see more and more students go to either financial mathematics program or computer science rather than to fundamental science. By doing so, they box themselves into learning “derivative” science instead of being able to approach any problem from the “first principles” and offer a fresh look. That’s a worrisome trend, which will cause a decrease in the number of exceptionally bright students graduating with chem/ physics degrees.

Obviously, with the growth of vast amounts of electronic data, more statisticians and computer scientists will be required. However, I like to see these skills closely intertwined with the understanding of the underlying processes.

Often, during interviews, the interviewees prefer to focus on a formal, mathematical description of financial markets. However, I often find that the word “finance” aka “money” blinds many of them. Instead of a thoughtful approach, they apply in science, a similarly in-depth approach to financial markets often goes MIA. I personally prefer for a student to admit to what they don’t understand instead of moving cavalierly throughout finance.

In the end, I would like to remind anyone who considers switching from science to finance that today an advanced degree in a quantitative discipline is an absolutely necessary but not sufficient condition.

Joshua Jones, scientific consultant to the industrial hemp industry.

Name:  Joshua Jones

Occupation:   Scientific consultant to the industrial hemp industry


About me:  I grew up in Atlanta, GA, graduating high school from a small, work-study program called Ben Franklin Academy. Although I went straight to college from there, my path towards undergraduate degrees in Chemistry and International Affairs, and eventually to a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry through CUNY’s Brooklyn College, was serpentine to say the least! I initially attended a small liberal arts college in North Carolina, Warren Wilson College, studying chemistry, philosophy, and primarily how not to flunk my classes. Although I was deeply involved in the college, it didn’t take long for me to realize that time and money weren’t being well-spent, and that I needed to stretch my legs before I could find the discipline it takes to succeed in the physical sciences.

A world of curiosities drew me to travel, and I spent 6 years working, backpacking and bicycling through over 25 countries. Refreshed from these broader experiences, I returned to studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder. While there, my interest in Organic Chemistry solidified. A summer research project placed me under the wing of a generous scientific mentor, who helped me see the joy and power of understanding the world through a study & practice of chemistry. In this way, the power of mentorship to influence our goals was strongly impressed on me. I’ve since found great satisfaction helping others through the challenges of defining our professions. In my case, the pursuit of experimental chemistry at Brooklyn College has provided me the skills and authority to use chemistry as a tool to pursue a career that I enjoy.

The years spent pursuing a PhD were mentally and physically demanding. While there’s no assumption that graduate school is ‘easy’, it’s also not accurate to say it’s simply ‘hard.’ Attaining a PhD in the experimental sciences is a maturation process. For me, especially as an older student (entering graduate school at age 31), managing the multiple roles of student, teacher, researcher, husband, and father sometimes seemed incompatible. But as long as I could be patient with myself and others, I found being a graduate student to be a source of pride and success.

About my work:  After defending my thesis in July, 2015 and moving back to Colorado, I quickly found work (through a Craigslist ad!) as chief chemist at an industrial hemp start-up company. At the time, and still very much so today, there has been a large need for trained scientists to provide technical problem-solving skills for the processing of industrial hemp into safe and effective botanical extracts. So many aspects of the hemp industry have lacked technical sophistication, and were often in need of the scientific skills I had just spent a decade acquiring. For example, the farming, harvesting and extraction of hundreds of tons of hemp has no modern industrial precedent, and has required innovations in all aspects of manufacturing. Analytical methods using HPLC, GC and MS have been feverishly developed for determining secondary metabolites and contaminants in hemp plants and extracts. Methods for industrial chromatography are being developed for the purification of cannabinoids and other plant compounds found in hemp. People often say that working in the hemp industry is akin to building the airplane as it’s going down the runway. Despite the challenges, I’ve been lucky to find a near perfect match for the skills I acquired in formal education and the need for scientists in a burgeoning industry.

But speaking of challenges, not all was smooth sailing at my first job. The pressures of exponential growth on a company can be hard on management and employees. Although the hemp company I began with has since grown to be a leader in the field (Folium Biosciences), I found that other employers in Colorado’s newly state-legalized marijuana industry were willing to pay far more for my time. After 6 months working with the hemp company, and saddled with significant student loans, I joined a small team of dedicated research scientists at one of Colorado’s largest marijuana producers (LivWell Enlightened Health.) I was immediately submerged in a virtual ocean of high-quality marijuana cultivation and processing, complete with retail branding, state-wide distribution into over a dozen stores, and over 500 employees. As a research scientist, my job was essentially to diagnose production problems and figure out how to make things better. Over the next 1.5 years, I was afforded the tools to make new ideas work, and developed camaraderie with colleagues from all walks of life in an industry dedicated to producing the most potent marijuana products ever known. I found myself participating in a highly contentious transformation with far reaching effects, industrially, socially and legally, not so different from the alcohol post-prohibition period of the 1930’s.

Despite these excitements, I also found the ‘gold rush’ environment of cannabis production, especially as an employee of a single firm, to be restrictive to my broader engagement with the cannabis industries (i.e., Cannabis refers to both marijuana and hemp as varieties of the same species.) So I decided to form my own consulting company to have more freedom in the work I could do.

In late 2017, I formed a company called Jonesing Labs, and began offering consulting services to cannabis processing companies (largely hemp.) While it took several months to establish a client base, it’s been non-stop work ever since. I’ve served as a trusted advisor and participant with over 25 firms, large and small. The sheer scale of hemp operations makes my jaw drop and keeps my attention on a daily basis. I’ve provided counsel on business development, equipment selection, process design & optimization, operational safety & compliance, and custom product formulations. But despite being afforded a flattering trust from clients seeking the specialized knowledge of chemistry I aimed to provide, I yearned to be ‘back in the lab.’ Designing experiments to discover improved ways of doing things is what I’ve learned to enjoy, and lab-based services can bring greater value to clients and to a growing company like Jonesing Labs. So, for the past 6 months, with the help of gracious and capable colleagues, I’ve been working to build an experimental laboratory to offer a suite of contracted R&D services to the hemp industry. We’re also expanding our small facility to provide toll-processing services for high-value transformations of crude feedstocks into refined extracts of hemp. With competition becoming intense for the production of hemp products, new and existing hemp companies continue to seek services from Jonesing Labs to reduce production costs and improve product variety, consistency, efficacy, and safety.

Advice About Entering the Field:  For students interested in pursuing an education that could translate into opportunities in the hemp industry, relevant degrees in the physical & applied sciences, especially organic chemistry and chemical engineering, will continue to be highly sought-after skills. However, I’ve also seen that high levels of academic fluency are universally valued if not rooted in the specific technologies used for processing hemp. For this reason, students should consider pursuing internships with hemp firms while still in school to complement their formal education. Coming out of school with exposure to industry needs, and with relationships built for quick transition into the sector, would be my recommendation for anyone considering participation in this new and thriving business.

Although my working experience has shown that flexibility in expectations for working environments is just as important as skills in the hard sciences (i.e., in start-ups, you ‘wear all hats’), I might also add that rapid industry growth, going from cannabidiol (CBD) being virtually unknown in 2015 to being available in gas stations and supermarkets 2019, means the working environments that current students might face when entering the industry in years to come will likely be relatively secure and specialized compared to what I encountered in 2015. In that light, students may expect to encounter job descriptions and environments that are well-defined and more in-line with more established nutraceutical or pharmaceutical firms. That said, if I can ever be of help in guiding relevant educational or career choices, please feel free to contact me through the Brooklyn College Chemistry Department.

Bola Aladegbami, General Surgery Chief Resident at Washington University School of Medicine

Name:  Bola Aladegbami

Occupation:   General Surgery Chief Resident at Washington University School of Medicine


About me:  I immigrated to Brooklyn from Nigeria in 2002 and enrolled in Brooklyn College the same summer. I was initially unsure of what to study or what profession to pursue or what it entailed to be a physician or go to medical school. However, I was lucky to have the late Dr. Roberto Sanchez-Delgado (Professor of Chemistry) as a mentor. He helped launch my career and shaped its trajectory.

I was lucky to do research in Dr. Sanchez-Delgado’s lab studying new therapeutic ruthenium based drugs for treating Tuberculosis. This time spent in the lab helped improve my critical thinking, problem solving abilities and overall confidence. In addition, the research made me a more competitive candidate for medical school.

Prior to starting medical school at Stony Brook in 2008, I took 2 years off to design and study diagnostic models for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. This research opportunity was made possible by my initial research at Brooklyn College. This time off prior to medical school gave me needed time to be a more seasoned professional.

I graduated from Stony Brook medical school in 2012 and have since been a general surgery resident at Washington University school of medicine.  A typical general surgery residency is 5 years, however I spent 3 years doing additional research and also completing an MBA degree. I am currently scheduled to graduate June 2020. After that I will be moving to Carolina Medical Center to start a one year Minimally Invasive Surgery fellowship.

About my work:  My job can be broken into diagnosing patients, creating treatment plans, implementing treatment plans and post-procedure monitoring. The diagnosis portion entails using a combination of the patient-reported symptoms, physical exam in addition to laboratory tests or imaging studies to elucidate their disease process. As a surgeon the treatment plan phase typically bifurcates into to parts:  Does the patient need a medical management (observation, drugs, physical therapy etc.) or a surgical procedure performed?  Regardless of the pathway taken, the surgeon is still involved in monitoring their response to therapy.

My day typically starts earlier and ends later than most individuals’. I usually start by seeing the patients currently admitted to the surgical service to create/adjust diagnostic or treatment or discharge plans. Starting around 7:30 am, we then proceed to the operating room to perform scheduled surgical cases. The operating room for me feels like being in a yoga session where all the problems in the world melt away with your only focus being the patient on your operating room table. After all the operations are done, I then proceed to reassess all the patients on my service before leaving the hospital.

Chemistry laid the foundation for me to be a Medical Doctor. Chemistry makes it easier for me to understand clinical pathways, disease pathogenesis, pharmacology, signaling pathway etc. All of which are essential in medicine and basic science research. The only thing chemistry does not enhance is your hand-eye coordination.

Advice About Entering the Field:  Anyone regardless of race or gender or sexual preference could become a Medical Doctor or Surgeon. There is no personal characteristic that makes one a better doctor or surgeon. The major focus in college should be ensuring you make yourself a competitive candidate (good grades, good letters of recommendations, MCAT scores, and research in a field you are passionate about).  The road however is hard, long and filled with challenges and sacrifices. However, nothing worth doing is easy.

Giovanna Scapin, Senior Principal Scientist, Merck & Co., Inc.

Name:  Giovanna Scapin

Occupation:   Senior Principal Scientist, Computational & Structural Chemistry, Merck & Co., Inc.


About me: I was born and raised in a small town in Italy, in the mountains about 60 miles northwest of Venice.  My father was an MD with a strong interest in biomedical research, and my mother a high school math teacher. Since early childhood I had a clear propensity for math and science, and even though I attended a classical studies (Greek and Latin and history and philosophy and literature) high school, I soon realized that chemistry was in my future.  I eventually graduated in 1985 from Padova University with a degree in Organic Chemistry, and in 1989 I received my PhD in Organic Chemistry from the same university with a thesis in protein crystallography. After my PhD I was convinced that my future was in Academia, and the first step was to find a post-doc position in a foreign lab.  In February 1990 I joined the laboratory of Dr. James C. Sacchettini at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx (NY), as postdoctoral fellow, and subsequently as Instructor. I spent 6 years at AECOM, where I did a lot of research and I also mentored several graduated students and post-doctoral fellows.

When Dr. Sacchettini moved on, I was faced with the need of finding another position.  At that point academic and industrial research positions were equally attractive to me, and in 1997 I joined Merck and Co., Inc, as Research Scientist in the Structural Biology group. In 2015 Merck decided to invest in the emerging cryo-electron microscopy field, and together with my manager I took the lead in developing cryoEM at Merck. Initially I spent two years embedded in the New York Structural Biology Center – Simons Electron Microscopy Center to learn hands-on single particle CryoEM, and after my return full time at Merck, we acquired a ThermoFisher Krios and established a full CryoEM facility.

Since 2010, I am also an active member of the organizing committee for the International School of Crystallography.

About my work: At Merck I work within a group that aims to provide structural support to drug discovery programs.  Structure based (or guided) drug design is an integral part of the drug discovery platform across the pharmaceutical industry, and it is well recognized that having detailed information about the atomic interactions between a drug and its target can considerably accelerate the drug discovery process. The most common methods utilized so far for structure determination are X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), but both techniques have limitations mostly caused by intrinsic properties of the target of interest, such as size, conformational stability or flexibility. In recent years, single particle cryoelectron microscopy (SP-cryo-EM) has emerged as a complementary technique for determining structures suitable for application in drug discovery. SP-Cryo-EM has also the advantage of allowing characterization of larger, more complex and conformationally heterogeneous biological systems.

Our group is formed from people at different stages of their career within the company, and the position in the career ladder defines the daily activities of each person in the group.  While we all spend time in the lab, growing crystals or freezing grids, collecting data and solving structures, my more senior position requires that I participate more in strategy discussions, portfolio management meetings and human development.  As cryoEM lead, I am also responsible for evaluating all the EM requests we receive, maintaining a balanced portfolio between internal work and outsourcing, organizing cross-training of other people in the company (people that come from different backgrounds but want to work with or within the cryoEM group) and provide scientific support to the youngest members of our team.

I am an experimentalist at hearth, and I think that the best part of working in a research driven company is that after so many years I am still doing what I love the most, which is hands on experiments to solve novel structures and understand biology.  The drawback to that is that we are often under very tight deadlines, with lots of stress and long hours.

Advice About Entering the Field: A PhD degree is essential, and 1-3 years of post-doctoral research experience are strongly suggested.  You are expected to “hit the ground running”, there is very little on the job training, and the more experience you have beforehand the better off you are.  Several companies offer industrial post-doc positions, not as a means to get into that specific company but as a way to gain experience and test the waters.  I would strongly recommend it.  Working for a private company is indeed very different than working in academia, and it may be very unlike what a recent graduate is told or has learned.  You will be first and foremost a scientist, so curiosity, interest in discovery, and passion for research are a must.  But being a good team player, having good social skills and being able to articulate your work in front of large and diverse audience are also important factors to consider.

Matthew Zisk, Patent Attorney

Name:  Matthew Zisk

Occupation:  Retired Partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates


About Me:  I was raised outside of Boston, Massachusetts in an academic family (both parents and one grandparent were professors), but came relatively late to my love of chemistry. I was more interested in music and arts than science all the way through my teens and early twenties, until I decided at the age of twenty two to stop complaining about the state of the world and (instead) to try to work toward its betterment.  To that end, I went back to school to study marine biology at Boston University, where my mother was a Professor of Political Science.

I took first-year biology and first-year chemistry (together with calculus and intensive statistics) my first semester back, and had truly dedicated and gifted professors in all subjects; I quickly learned that, for me, chemistry was a greater challenge than biology, but also held a greater fascination.  I spent a lot of time in office hours with my first-year chemistry professor (Dr. Klaas Eriks) who encouraged and led me to go beyond the scope of the class material in order to understand some of the physics that is implicit in first-year chemistry, but that is held back until physical chemistry; I was fascinated.  Toward the end of my second semester, I sheepishly approached my biology professor for advice on changing majors.  To his credit, he stated that he and many biologists of that era wished that they’d studied chemistry as undergraduates, because it was central to what they did, and very difficult to pick up on their own; he encouraged me to switch majors (which I did).

My organic chemistry professor the next year, Dr. Guilford Jones II (a physical organic chemist), was equally gifted as Dr. Eriks (and equally enamored of the application of quantum mechanics to the study of chemistry), and invited me to begin research in his lab during the second semester of my second year.  I joined his lab and continued to do research under his guidance through the rest of my undergraduate studies (including two full-time summers).  That I would go on for a PhD in chemistry was an inevitable outcome from those early experiences, so off to Stanford I went following my days an undergraduate.

My experience in the PhD program at Stanford convinced me of several things – that I was not overly interested in lab work after all (thus, I did a fair amount of work in silico), and that the changes in funding for big-time academic research ongoing in the late 1980s made that path really unpalatable to me.  My then wife, however, was a hot-shot political scientist (feel free to hit me with your best Freudian references . . . ) and I decided to follow her to wherever she landed, which turned out to be in Columbus, Ohio at Ohio State.  After a year with me as a visiting professor at Wittenberg University, we wound up with the holy-grail for academic couples – tenure-track positions in the same metro area (hers at Ohio State, mine at Otterbein University).  They were less than ideal jobs, however (for reasons I will skip), and I concluded during my first year at Otterbein that being a small college professor would not make me happy in the long term.

Fortuitously, toward the end of my first year at Otterbein I was asked by a large agricultural chemistry company to assist as an expert on a patent-infringement claim against the company (based largely on differential scanning calorimetry – something with which I had worked extensively in my graduate work), and the experience of working with the team of attorneys and company scientists whetted my appetite to transition into patent law.  (Sheepishly, again) I approached the department Chair at Otterbein, who was a friend and trusted advisor, and my PhD advisor (James P. Collman) about their thoughts.  In the case of the Chair, he allowed that, had he had it to do over again earlier in his career, he might well have gone into patent law.  In the case of Jim Collman, after hearing my proposal, he uttered the single word “perfect” (followed by a brief description of the lives of two other of his advisees who had gone into patent law).  Bolstered by this encouragement, I applied to and attended law school full time at Ohio State starting the following year.  I then moved to the New York City metro area where I have happily lived and worked in a variety of legal positions ever since.

About My Work:  I did not know until that fateful first summer at Otterbein what patent attorneys do, so first and foremost, I want to give you an idea about that. I speak from broad and specific experience — short of being a judge, over the span of my legal career, I assumed (for significant periods of time in all cases) pretty much every role performed by patent attorneys – worked in a small law firm, worked in a large law firm; worked as an Associate, worked as a Partner; worked in-house on a corporate legal team; worked as a litigator, worked as a prosecutor, and worked on transactions on behalf of small medium and large companies, banks, and academic institutions owning or interested in technologies, acquiring technologies and businesses, and investing in or lending to (or being invested in or lent to) entities in whole or in part based on the value of technologies on or off patent.  In most cases, I used my background in chemistry (and physics and computers) to gain a deep understanding of the technologies at issue in my clients’ or their targets’ businesses.  This understanding enabled me to help foster investment in and development of ground-breaking, and in many cases life- or environment-saving technologies.

Patent attorneys can be roughly thrown into two buckets (although many of us occupied both buckets at the same time) – those who work with inventors and companies to help them obtain patents (so-called patent prosecutors), and those who are involved in administrative and court proceedings to enforce (or defend against enforcement of) patents, or to challenge their validity (so-called patent litigators).  As a technical matter, only patent prosecutors are required to have formal scientific or engineering training (bachelor’s degrees are fine) and to take a specialized bar exam in order to practice, although most of the best litigators also started out as scientists or engineers.

Patent prosecutors spend a lot of time with inventors and company executives digging deeply into the technical elements of an invention.  They do so in order to be able properly to draft patent applications and to work with patent examiners to negotiate the scope of an invention that will be allowed to issue as a patent in the US and elsewhere.  Prosecutors must also understand the broader field of the invention (what’s already known, how scientists and engineers in the field think, what works and doesn’t work, etc.) and ideally, in analogous fields, in all cases to defend against an examiner denying a claim as legally obvious.  Prosecutors must also know the history of federal court and administrative patent cases in order to be able to argue that a particular case supports the issuance of claims in an application undergoing prosecution.  Patent prosecutors furthermore must understand the voluminous regulations surrounding the examination of patents (deadlines and procedures and other formalities that have been developed over more than a century and that make up the ground rules for the negotiations with examiners), and ideally, will, with time, develop a rapport and mutual trust with the examiners in the particular areas of specialty in which the prosecutors operate, so that the negotiations will run smoothly.

Patent litigators must know the patent case law and must understand, in depth, the history of the negotiations surrounding the issuance of a particular patent at issue in a litigation.  They must have enough of an understanding of the invention and field of invention to be able to argue the merits of their side of a case, but will generally rely on experts to provide the deeper understanding of the nuances and context (field) of the invention.  Litigators need also to understand the broader business context of an invention (litigation almost never ensues absent many millions of dollars on the line), and need to be able to argue the detailed value of a business using the invention claimed in a patent at issue.  Litigators must muster their understanding of all of these elements and advocate on behalf of the position their client is taking in the litigation (that an invention is or is not properly patented, that a competitor product does or does not properly fall within the scope of an issued claim of a patent (i.e. that it does or does not infringe the patent claim), and that if it does infringe, the degree of harm caused by the infringement in monetary terms), and be prepared to advocate for that position irrespective of their personal views on the merits of their clients’ cases (as long as doing so does not cross a line into committing fraud).  Litigators who are trial attorneys must be able to relate to jurors and judges on a human level, must be adept at public speaking, and must be quick on their feet in coming up with and countering arguments that arise in a case.  Keep in mind that very few cases actually go to trial (and if they do, not all complete the trial), so much of a litigator’s job is to position the case in the minds of their clients and the opposing parties in a manner that will lead to an advantageous settlement of the case.  Litigation, like prosecution, is subject to voluminous rules and regulations that must be understood and followed.

Both patent prosecutors and patent litigators can also become involved in business transactions beyond settling infringement claims.  Whenever a pair of companies agrees to combine all or part of their efforts in a particular field for which one or both of them holds patent rights (for example, to form a collaboration, sell a business, or merge businesses), patent attorneys will be involved on both sides in structuring and negotiating the combination to take into account the value of the patent rights and how they will be used following the transaction.  When a bank agrees to lend a company money or a company decides to issue stock (privately or with an IPO or otherwise), if the value of the business is determined to any significant degree by patent rights (held by the business or held by competitors) then patent attorneys will be needed on both sides to guide the structuring and negotiation of the loan or issuance documents to account for the patent rights.

Much of this transactional work involves planning for the mess that might arise if the business, following the transaction, doesn’t do well, so a lot of a patent attorney’s time is spent coming up with potential risks and downside scenarios, and then arguing about how they should be handled (lawyers are thus often seen as an impediment  to a deal– the “brakes” – worrying about doomsdays and bad actors while those same actors may be sitting with them in a conference room feeling impugned; but that is properly part of the job!)  Complex work can also be needed where some, but not all rights in a technology are transferred as part of the transaction, how the remainder is to be handled.  In all cases, a relatively deep understanding of the technologies involved is critical, or at least extremely helpful.

Day to day, patent attorneys spend a great deal of time reading (opinions from court and administrative cases, scientific literature, correspondence from other attorneys and examiners and courts, and documents related to transactions), in meetings with clients and other lawyers, and drafting and re-drafting documents (letters, briefs, contracts, responses, etc.) as part of prosecution, litigation or transactional work.  They work as part of teams, for the most part, and so also spend a lot of time in professional gatherings with colleagues and clients.

Advice About Entering the Field:  I loved working as a patent attorney.  The combination of being able to dig into cutting-edge science and contributing to development of new and important technologies was very rewarding for me.  I also love reading, and especially writing, which are huge parts of the job.

That said, while it can be incredibly rewarding, it can (and for scientists often is) incredibly frustrating to transition from working in science to working as an attorney.  Why?  As scientists, we are taught to seek out the single best answer, which we expect to lay out in black and white terms when finally discerned.  As an attorney, it is critical to be able to see the shades of gray and to be able to advocate for a position whose correctness may not be clear to you (I stopped litigating after about 8 years in part because I was never comfortable advocating for a client I believed was in the wrong, but even in prosecution and transactional work, it is an attorney’s job to take the client’s strongest reasonable position permitted by the circumstances).  If you are not comfortable in this gray world or advocating for positions in which you may have some doubts, you may not be comfortable working as an attorney.

Also, the practice law is a social endeavor.  If you prefer to be a loner, you may not enjoy, and may not be able to generate the necessary business required for success in law (there are exceptions to this last observation, but the work tends not to be very interesting).  If you enjoy spending long hours hard at work and socializing with other people (and golf outings and business lunches, drinks and dinners) then you may love being, and find yourself successful as, an attorney.

I would also caution you that law school is expensive (both in tuition and in lost income from being out of the workforce), and should be viewed and tested as an investment.  If you are able to attend a really good law school (top tier) and do very well (near the top of your class in law school), your prospects of getting an interesting and well-paying job are reasonably good so the investment will likely pay off, but if you attend a lower-tier law school or place out of the top of your class (or top quarter of your class if you go to a top-fourteen law school), then those payoff prospects are much dimmer, although with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or another science or engineering, your chances are somewhat better than they would be without that degree, as long as you want to be a patent prosecutor and are willing to move to certain cities around the U.S.

Finally, I would advise you (whether in becoming a patent attorney or in other areas of your lives) to keep your head up at all times and look out for and take new and interesting opportunities that will almost certainly arise.  My getting into law, my moving to (and later back to) what is arguably the top law firm in the world, my move in-house to a Fortune 50 company – all arose somewhat as a result of happenstance, but mostly as a result of observation, deep consideration, careful planning, keeping track of my values, and seeking out and listening to the advice of people whom I trusted and who could provide some perspective on current and possible future directions.

Orrette Wauchope, Professor of Chemistry

Name:  Orrette Wauchope

Occupation:  Professor of Chemistry, Baruch College of the City University of New York



About Me:  I was born in the coastal town of Montego Bay in Jamaica. In 2001, I migrated to the United States, to New York, during winter I might add. It was a big change, but a change that I embraced. In fact, I fell in love with cold weather! I absolutely loved it. Upon settling in New York, I enrolled at Brooklyn College, CUNY and planned to major in Chemistry.

During my time at Brooklyn College I conducted research in the lab of Professor Alexander Greer. My time in Professor Greer’s lab was very transformative for me as this was where my career in science began. I learned how to think about science, conduct experiments and how to report the results of our findings. I’ll touch more on these experiences a little later in the post. After graduating with my BSc in Chemistry in 2005, I began my graduate work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in the lab of Professor Katherine Seley-Radtke. I was in another new city, but had a connection there as the seafood in Baltimore reminded me of the seafood in Jamaica.

After completion of my PhD in Organic Chemistry in 2011, I accepted a postdoctoral research position at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. I found that I liked Nashville, which was surprising to me as the personality of the city was the complete opposite of New York. It’s a great city, I couldn’t however embrace country music. After my postdoctoral work at Vanderbilt, I accepted a faculty position at Baruch College, CUNY, in 2017, where I am currently an Assistant Professor of Chemistry in the Department of Natural Sciences.

About My Work:  Being a professor has been overall a very rewarding experience for me. At Baruch College, I get the opportunity to interact with students from a very wide range of backgrounds, both socioeconomic as well as educational. Baruch is also special in that several of our students are returning students, meaning that they already have careers or families and have decided to return to school. At Baruch, my role is multifaceted. I teach chemistry classes, lead a very active research group (currently six students) as well as carry out other professional responsibilities at the department, college and/or university levels.

I must admit that my responsibilities sounded really daunting when I first started. However, it was my training and background that really made this transition easier. This training began as an undergraduate researcher at Brooklyn College with Professor Greer. The chemistry projects that I participated in were very diverse and it exposed me to several techniques. It was during this time at Brooklyn College that I started to become more scientifically mature. I started to think about how to design a good research program that is hypothesis driven, recognize what tools I needed to test the hypothesis and begin practicing how to report/discuss the results that were obtained.

I did quite a bit of teaching/tutoring while at Brooklyn College and I realized that I also have a second passion, teaching. This training then was even more amplified at graduate school. I continued to develop my research skills and was also given more opportunities to develop my teaching. One important thing that happened during graduate school was that I had the opportunity to mentor students. This was very important as I learned how to drive the research projects of undergraduates and to give effective mentoring advice for career development. My postdoctoral experience further expanded on my training in graduate school. My research skills became very diverse, which became a huge benefit in my career. I was also able to mentor students and to teach classes at Vanderbilt.

At Baruch College, my group works on understanding the mechanisms that underlie bacterial communication (quorum sensing). The work in my lab lies at the interface of chemistry and biology and borrows tools from synthetic organic chemistry, bioorganic chemistry, analytical chemistry and molecular biology. Quorum sensing is responsible for the formation of biofilms. Biofilms are very complex bacterial (and in some cases fungal) aggregations that are almost impenetrable to antibiotics. According to the CDC, more than 80% of microbial infections in the body involve biofilms. Biofilms are deleterious and have huge impacts not only in the health field but in the food industry, water purification and the shipping industry. One aspect of our lab works on designing inhibitors that will disrupt bacterial communication (quorum sensing). Another area works on understanding the mechanisms that underlie the signal transduction within the bacterial cells. In other words, how do the bacteria decide to make a biofim? A third area is looking at the role that DNA damage plays in the signal transduction involved in biofilm formation via quorum sensing.

A typical day for me actually depends on the day of the week. For days that I teach, the day begins with me preparing for my lectures and working on some grading of a previous assignment. I typically do have office hours on the days that I teach and if there is any time left in the day (very rarely), I try to get ahead and prepare the next set of lectures. In between teaching etc., I always try to sneak some time to get into the lab. I always want to be accessible to my students in case they have any questions about their projects. Also, I want to make them know that I’m available to provide mentoring whenever they need it. On days that I do not teach, my time is spent almost exclusively on research. I’m either in the lab or in my office reading articles and thinking of other research ideas. This doesn’t always work out perfectly as during the week I attend meetings that are associated with my administrative roles with the department and/or college.

Before I leave work each day, I try to make a list of tasks that need to be done the next day. I find that this helps me complete important activities that need to get done. I oftentimes take work home with me. This is usually in the form of an article(s) to read or maybe I do some light grading. I live in Staten Island so I use my time on the train and ferry to do some work. On hectic days however, I typically use my commute time to reset and unwind a little usually with some help with music. I try my best to find time for family/social obligations in the evenings after work. I found that getting rest/unwinding was critical to my productivity the next day.

Being a professor is very rewarding for me. However, one of the biggest challenges for me is time. During some days, there’s so much going on. So, I have to be able to teach, do research and mentor in addition to my other responsibilities. To be effective, I’ve found that I have to be deliberate with my time and give priority to the more critical things that need to be done. This means that sometimes instead of working in the lab on my research days, I might be in my office working on writing a manuscript or working on a grant proposal. This gives me less time with my students and I try to make up for this on another day. Inevitably, it means that my schedule is in constant flux on some days. Always on the forefront of my mind is getting research done so that I can get it published and to write new grant proposals to get more funding for the lab.

The best thing about my job is the freedom that I get to work on something that I’m intellectually stimulated by. Loving what I work on definitely fuels my success in that I’m continuously engaged in all stages of the projects and I get excited when the lab has reached a milestone in a project. It also leaves me open to think of and develop new ideas. Another area that I enjoy comes with the teaching and mentoring aspect of my job. I get really excited when I see the sparkle in a student’s eyes when they understand a particular concept being taught in class. I really do enjoy teaching and I try to reach out to students to ensure that they do well. I take mentoring very seriously and I endeavor to provide the support that the students in my lab need to advance in their career. The mentoring that I received as a student was very important in my development and I’m very honored and proud that I get the opportunity to help aspiring scientists in similar ways that were done for me.

Advice About Entering the Field:  I think the best advice I can give about entering the field is preparation. I think that this was crucial for me in my career. Ok, so how do you prepare? Where do you start? I think that it’s absolutely important to get some research experience. This experience would probably best come from areas involving synthesis overlapping with some biology/biochemistry. This experience should come before entering graduate school. Your research experience will greatly prepare you for graduate school. Picking a lab where you fit in is important. It’s always a good idea to reach out to professors and talk about prospects for doing research with them. Always ask questions. You need to become a cheerleader for your success. We are always here to help and we will provide guidance and become cheerleaders for your success alongside of you. If you desire to teach then it’s important to try and seek out tutoring/teaching opportunities with the advice of your research advisor whether as an undergraduate student or when you’re in graduate school. You must be prepared to work hard and have an open mind.

Remember, you don’t know what you like until you start doing it. So, this means the possibility of working on different research projects before you find one that’s a good fit. The same advice goes for teaching. Hands-on teaching is the only way to know for sure that you like it. You may not be the best at teaching right away, but you’ll get better the more that you teach. You won’t be alone in this step as your advisor will be there with you.

Working hard also means embracing failures in experiments. Failures are equally important in preparing you for success as oftentimes there’s something to me learned in a failed experiment. While you’re developing your experimental tool set, don’t be afraid to venture a little out the box: come up with your own experiments, or research project(s). Run your ideas by your advisors, they will help you develop and/or improve your ideas. It’s important to remember that you are not alone in this process, networking is critical. This comes in several forms. It could come from students at similar points in their career or from people who have gone through the process who can give some useful suggestions. I should point out that your research mentor/advisor should always be your primary contact. In terms of your scientific advancement, it’s important to try and attend conferences. At conferences, you will get the opportunity to talk to different scientists and form important connections that might be beneficial later in your career.