PME honors the Class of 2020

Seven graduate students in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago and 21 undergraduate molecular engineering majors at The College will be conferred their degrees this quarter, marking the culmination of years of dedicated work.

Although traditionally graduates would participate in ceremonies on campus, this year due to COVID-19 the University of Chicago’s 533rd Convocation will be held remotely, with a virtual ceremony taking place on June 13. Graduates in the Class of 2020 are also invited to return to campus in June 2021 and participate in Convocation in person.

Despite the unusual circumstances, the sense of celebration remains as Pritzker Molecular Engineering recognizes this class’s accomplishments and the end of an academic chapter at the University.

“This class of graduate and undergraduate students have demonstrated an ability to work across disciplines, to rise to new challenges, and to lead,” said Matthew Tirrell, dean of PME. “I am proud of their accomplishments, as they should be, and look forward to hearing about where their degrees take them.”

One of the students graduating this quarter is Ashley Guo, who worked in the de Pablo Group. A member of the first class of PhD students to spend their entire tenure at PME, she fondly recalls Pritzker Molecular Engineering, then the Institute for Molecular Engineering, when it was still relatively new.

“I am also glad I had the chance to teach a tutorial for molecular simulation software as a graduate student,” said Guo, who is now a postdoctoral scholar at the Center for Soft Matter Research at New York University. “Being able to break down the tools of my research and teach them to strangers – and have them tell me afterward what they learned – made me proud.”

Guo, who helped start a UChicago chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, said new and current students should remember to check in on each other and keep in touch.

“The PME has so many people coming from all sorts of backgrounds, working in very different areas and bringing with them their unique experiences and points of view,” said Guo. “This is easily overlooked in the day-to-day graduate student life, but I think it's a valuable and special resource for PME students.”

Zack Jarin of Voth Group, who after graduating with a PhD will be a postdoctoral fellow in at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, said his favorite thing about PME was the wide variety of fields he was able to explore.

“I enjoyed learning about different research and hearing how that research evolved and changed as my friends learned more and their work progressed,” said Jarin.

After writing a successful grant to the France and Chicago Collaborating in the Sciences program, Jarin took a three-month trip to Paris to learn about experiments to improve his computational models. He said the majority of his thesis was based on that collaboration.

“New students should look for funding to take trips and learn from people outside of your group,” said Jarin. “Each of the trips I took taught me something new and expanded my professional network.”

Four graduate students earned PhDs this Spring Quarter in total, including Seong-Min Kim (Esser-Kahn Group), who is pursuing opportunities as a scientist in pharmaceutical and biotech companies; and Phillip Rauscher (Rowan Group and de Pablo Group), who will be a postdoctoral scholar in the de Pablo Group.

Three students earned MS degrees, including Noah Johnson (Zhong Lab), who is planning to pursue a PhD at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Among the graduate students who earned degrees during the 2019-2020 academic year are Moshe Dolejsi (Nealey Group), now a yield engineer at Intel Corporation; Jiajing Li (Nealey Group), now a process engineer at Applied Materials; and Jiyuan Li (de Pablo Group), now a data scientist.

“We thank our graduates for their exceptional work and dedication, both in the classroom and the laboratory,“ said Paul Nealey, deputy dean for education and outreach, “We hope they will continue to build on the knowledge and skills they have gained here, and remember to keep in touch with the rest of their class.”