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2018 Students Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

From left: Taylor Soucy, William Dean, Jessica Yazarians and Elvin Salerno

By Kelsey Diffley

The Chemistry department is pleased to congratulate four recipients of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships Program (NSF GFRP): William Dean, Elvin Salerno, Taylor Soucy and Jessica Yazarians.  A fifth awardee affiliated with the Biteen and Marsh labs, Hannah Chia, is a Chemical Biology Program student. This year the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded 2,000 exceptional STEM students a Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF).  The GRF program provides 3 years of financial support for completion of a research-based masters or doctoral degree.

Kelsy Diffley, a chemistry graduate student communications fellow, recently talked with the four recipients from Michigan Chemistry, who are first and second year graduate students.

  •   William is a second year in Charles McCrory’s lab.  He intends to utilize his research interests of electrochemistry and materials to design and build an analytical instrument. 
  • Taylor is a first year also joining McCrory’s group where she will continue research in her undergraduate focus of renewable fuels and electrochemistry.
  • Elvin is a first year joining Vincent Pecoraro’s lab.  Drawn to quantum devices, he will work creating molecular magnets in metallocrowns for potential use in computer data storage. 
  • Jessica is a second year in Alison Narayan’s group where she’s working on methodology development, a perfect blend of her 2 loves: organic total synthesis and biocatalysis.  

Kelsey: What excites you about research? How did you get to graduate school?

Jessica: I was driven by a love and passion for science and discovery and the idea of delving into the unknown and expanding knowledge. This love for science and research has been an innate drive getting me here. In the day-to-day while I’m doing experiments, I love my work.

Taylor: I totally agree. I remember my first research experience the summer after my freshman year, things were going wrong a lot and the best part, why I fell in love with it is, like so many other people in the lab would talk with me and troubleshoot it, and we figured out a way to fix it, circumvent the problem and I see that so much in my lab now.  Probably the most frustrating part of research is the part I like the most, troubleshooting what’s going on and figuring out a unique way to fix it.

Jessica: I agree with all that too, and the creativity of it. We get to be creative…I don’t think a lot of people give scientists credit for how creative the process is.

Elvin: I just like the idea of focusing on something, and the more you focus on it.  The fact that you can obsess over something and learn more about it in a way that will help everyone. Whenever you synthesize something new you’re making something that maybe no one has seen before, which I think is pretty cool.

William: I would say one of the best parts in general in research is seeing something you came up with work.  There’s going to be a lot of frustration when things you came up with don’t work, that was very obvious in hindsight that was going to be a problem but then sometimes you go all the way from an idea, something in your imagination to a physical object.

Kelsey: Why University of Michigan?

William: I liked the culture of the school. I liked there were a lot of different things happening as far as research. I was definitely attracted to the rotation system, it really gives you an opportunity for a trial run of the lab before you commit.

Taylor: I was definitely looking for a really big school with lots of resources and a lot of collaborations. I wanted to be in a place where I knew students were going to be excited about science and professors were excited.

Elvin: The resources and the people.  There are so many departments and all the departments are doing cool things.  And this school is really not pretentious about it.

Jessica: I agree with all those things, the culture was a big part of it. I came from a small program in my undergraduate institution and I didn’t think I could even go to grad school, though I aspired to.  I felt like Michigan took a chance on me and I was really excited to have the opportunity to come here because of the culture of excellence without pretentiousness, the collaborative environment and the amazing research people do here. I’ve learned to love the weather.  And I love Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor’s special. It’s great, I want to stay here forever!

                Considering their professed love for science and research, their future career plans don’t stray too far from this area.  Jessica would love to stay in Ann Arbor and harness the entrepreneurial spirit of the town to potentially start a business in the future.  Elvin sees himself staying in research, in a university or national lab.  Taylor could see herself in a smaller university setting where she would pursue her interests in both teaching and research.  And William is undecided.  These four have a few more years of graduate school left before they move on, and they are thankful for Michigan’s opportunities for career exploration and connections such as CALC|UM and CSIE|UM.  Though right now, summer plans are more pressing.  Outdoorsy stuff is in Elvin’s near future as he’s planning a visit to the UP.  Jessica will be taking a much-needed vacation after achieving candidacy, like William, who will be visiting family.  And Taylor is currently training for a marathon.  Whatever summer may bring, all four will no doubt be excited to return to their home of the University of Michigan to continue their much-loved research.