This is the second of my interview articles to people inside and outside academia who made their own way to success. My interview today is to Jennifer Matsui. She is a student of the Molander group and currently doing her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, USA. I very much admire Jennifer. She is a brilliant and strong woman with excellent PhD records. She has published seven papers in some of the best scientific journals so far as well as being selected for a graduate fellowship award by the big pharma company Bristol-Meyers-Squibb last year. To follow Jennifer, have a look at the LinkedIn profile, Jennifer Matsui, or via Twitter at @molandergroup.
This is my interview to her.
- Professor Molander was nominated Star of Chemistry 2017, how is it like to work in such a prestigious lab? It’s great to work with such creative coworkers! Over the past three years in the lab, I have especially learned a lot from postdocs and senior graduate students in the group who have been collaborative partners on various projects. Professor Molander is also a fantastic advisor who creates an environment where each student has the freedom to dabble in new areas of research.
- Why, do you think, you were selected for the Bristol-Meyers Squibb Graduate Research Fellow? There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I am assuming selections were based on (1) if BMS deems the research useful for the pharmaceutical industry and (2) how much individual contribution was made to each project. I was fortunate early in my grad career to successfully identify working conditions for the work in C–H alkylation of heterocycles using alkyltrifluoroborates. Given the widespread commercial availability of trifluoroborates and the “dump and stir” reaction conditions, I presume it would be of use to companies such as BMS.
- What are your ambitions for the future? Keeping my options open! For most of grad school, I was set on the academic route which would entail a postdoc after graduation. Recently, have been looking into more non-traditional options, but we will see what the future has in store!
- Which pieces of advice would you give to EU students who want to apply for PhD or postdoc in prestigious USA labs? After talking with a friend of mine (a postdoc in the group who was previously an EU student), it sounds like (1) try to obtain funding from external sources, (2) contact at least 10 potential PIs (with a thoughtful cover letter, CV, research summary, etc.), and (3) take the opportunity to study abroad if you do get an offer! It has been wonderful working with postdocs from different countries–learning not only about how they think about chemistry differently, but hearing about the different cultures.
I am very grateful to Jennifer who agrees to answer my questions in the first place and for her honesty. Some of the answers were a bit unexpected and I want to make a few comments.
- Great professors have great ideas and this allows them to publish in prestigious journals. However, research and all the hard work is done by students and having a supportive and positive environment along with good colleagues does make the difference.
- For someone like Jennifer, with exceptional PhD records, the academic career seems to be already paved. However, she understands the importance of keeping her mind open and explore other options outside academia. This answer, totally unexpected, increased my respect and admiration for her.
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