1. What made you decide to become a chemist?
My high school chemistry and biology teachers were really inspiring and got me interested in working in a lab. Once I started in a lab, I found chemistry to be an incredibly compelling field since it is simultaneously very fundamental and very applied. On the one hand, chemistry tells us about how living organisms and everyday materials are put together. On the other hand, it provides an incredible toolkit for addressing real world problems like diseases and industrial challenges.
2. What is your favorite part of your job?
There is something really exciting about exploring the complex chemical structures found in nature. The best part of my job is sharing this excitement with students. There is nothing better than seeing a student tackle a really challenging problem, working with them to overcome difficult obstacles, and ultimately watching them succeed. Each project is different and often requires us to learn new techniques, engage new collaborations, and to get out of our comfort zone. We never really know where our science will take us next.
3. What exactly does “drug discovery” entail?
Drug discovery is the process of developing and evaluating new pharmaceuticals. It actually is much more of a “discovery” process than you might think. Most pharmaceuticals are based on compounds that were isolated from nature and only subsequently found to have therapeutic value. In my lab, this involves testing compounds that we isolate from microorganisms against diseases like cancer and bacterial infections using cell-based or protein-targeted assays. We also work on improving the methods for identifying new metabolites using microbial genome analysis and by developing new screening assays. This is all part of the drug discovery process.
4. What are the real world implications of your labs work?
Our lab explores the chemistry of compounds isolated from nature, with a specific focus on compounds that are relevant to human health. In one project, we are screening the compounds produced by fungi in an effort to identify novel antibiotics. In another project, we are using cell based assays and structural biology to elucidate the mechanism of action of a potent anti-cancer compound isolated from a soil bacterium. Regardless of the project, we have established collaborations with academic colleagues and partners in industry, and are always looking for an opportunity to apply this research to help solve real world problems.
5. How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I enjoy working out, listening to music, and spending time with friends. The key for me is to be efficient while I am at work and then enjoy my downtime.
6. Do you have any advice for aspiring young scientists?
I think that people pursuing a scientific career should know that many times your best results and most interesting discoveries come from very unexpected places. And so my advice would be to keep your eyes open, don't be afraid to explore, and never give up.