This fall, the prestigious NIH-funded Chemistry of Life Processes Training Program welcomed five second-year predoctoral students and three third-year trainees whose appointments were renewed. Trainees are required to have dual mentors from both chemistry and the life sciences and to learn the methods and approaches of both laboratories.  Throughout the two-year program, students engage in immersive, transdisciplinary laboratory training, and coursework in chemical biology methods and experimental design that will prepare them to tackle the world’s biggest problems in human health and disease.  They receive support investigating and developing the skills needed to pursue independent careers.  They learn about development of new drugs and diagnostics, entrepreneurship, and team science.

The program also gives students the tools and practice needed to become adept at communicating their science to a broad audience. Research forums and improv workshops give students hands-on experience communicating the impact of their research in the simplest and most compelling terms to audiences of varying levels of expertise.

“Former trainees who have since graduated and have full time jobs, have told us how important the program turned out to be for their career,” says Penelope Johnson, Senior Project Coordinator and program coordinator for the training program.  “In their companies, they are not always talking to scientific colleagues. If they need to defend an expense to a budget manager, for example, they need to make a persuasive case that does not involve a hypothesis and conclusion. What that budget manager wants is a two-minute, bottom-line answer to ‘Why should I keep investing money in this project?’”

CLP trainees get to invite visiting professors to Northwestern to give seminars and also learn from pharma and biotech experts on CLP’s Executive Advisory Board, as well as previous trainees who have graduated from the program and moved on to exciting careers in biomedical research.

“CLP trainees are constantly learning from each other and finding new solutions to challenges encountered in their research,” says Johnson.

Meet the cohort

The ‘20/’21 trainees have shared their responses to the questions: ‘Why did you apply to the training program and what you hope to get out of it?’ and ‘What do you look forward to the most?’

Newly appointed second year graduate students:

Ben Brenner
Primary Mentor: Hao Zhang
Secondary Mentor: Tom O’Halloran
Department: Biomedical Engineering

I applied to the CLP training program to achieve better specialization in Chemistry than might be possible in the standard training offered by the biomedical engineering department. I think it will open up many collaborative opportunities for my research.  I look forward to learning about the research of my fellow CLP members and of the researchers who speak at the seminars.

Alex Lee
Primary Mentor: Daniel Foltz
Secondary Mentor: Neil L Kelleher
Department: Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics

I applied to the CLP training program because I was interested in utilizing chemical approaches to study how deregulation in biological processes could lead to human disease. Apart from working on an independent research project with mentors that speak the languages of chemistry and biology, I hope to use this as a platform to foster diversity, scientific awareness, and collaboration within Northwestern University and the greater scientific community. What I look forward to the most is getting to know the CLP community, as well as connecting and learning from various guest speakers in academia and industry.

Cydney Martell
Primary Mentor: Gabriel Rocklin
Secondary Mentor: Mike Jewett
Department: Biological Sciences

I applied to the CLP training program for the opportunity to work with a secondary mentor and the focus on interdisciplinary research. Through this rotation, I hope to learn more lab techniques and different approaches to progress my thesis project. I also hope to continue to build my network and develop relationships that can foster collaboration in the future.

I most look forward to building relationships with the other trainees in my cohort. As a student on the Chicago campus, I am excited to build connections with graduate students and professors on the Evanston campus. I am looking forward to the research forums because of the ability to work on communicating my science and learn about my peer’s research. This will be a beneficial space to learn from the expertise of my peers and their suggestions for progressing my research.

Bethel Shekour
Primary Mentor: Milan Mrksich
Secondary Mentor: Karl Scheidt
Department: Chemistry

I applied to CLP because of the sense of community and support among cohort members. Not only do we get to grow as researchers together, but we also get the opportunity to discuss our research with those who are in different fields from ours. This helps us to grow as better communicators and enables us to share and receive new perspectives on how to address our research questions. I look forward to meeting everyone in-person and cheering them on as they accomplish amazing things.

Frank Tucci
Primary Mentor: Amy Rosenzweig
Secondary Mentor: Yuan He
Department: Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences

 I applied to CLP because I understand biology as a function of chemistry. I enjoy thinking about questions at the interface of these disciplines and looking at biology through the lens of chemistry. I am looking forward to interacting with my cohort and other scientists who are interested in chemical biology as well as learning about exciting research at the interface of chemistry and biology.

Renewed third-year postdoctoral students:

Israel Da Silva
Primary Mentor: Regan Thomson
Secondary Mentor: Neil L Kelleher
Department: Chemistry

I applied to CLP because it matched my scientific interests (chemistry and biology) and it also provided a lot of support for my career and personal life which I found very valuable. I look forward to applying all the skills I have learned in graduate school and CLP workshops to see how far in my scientific career I can get.

Allison Devitt

Primary Mentor: Karl Scheidt
Secondary Mentor: Peter Penzes
Department: Chemistry

I applied to the training program because I wanted the funding and support to move my very early stage project into a more applied direction. I hoped to find direction for my project and get training and advice to allow me to be a better, more well-rounded researcher. What I look forward to the most is seeing my cohort and Penelope [Johnson], the light of every CLP event.

Tori Seto
Primary Mentor: Milan Mrksich
Secondary Mentor: Alex Stegh
Department: Chemistry

I applied because the CLP program’s goal to train scientists in chemistry and biology aligned well with my own research and career goals to become an interdisciplinary scientist.  I look forward to CLP events and seminars because they always provide a great networking opportunity and learning experience.

“It’s rewarding to see the progress that students make over the course of the year,” says Johnson. “With practice and persistence, they realize being curious and asking questions can open up new collaborations and working relationships.

“I am excited about this year’s cohort building their professional network, practicing their science communication and learning from each other. The power of the cohort is enormous!”

by Lisa La Vallee