Na the new PhD


I started contemplating pursuing a PhD in chemistry during my undergraduate study in chemistry at Peking University. I joined Professor Shi’s lab when I was a sophomore. He is an extremely bright and inspiring scientist from Harvard. I loved my undergraduate research as an organic chemist and had a strong desire to lead my own project and invested deeply in chemistry. This experience solidified my choice to pursue a PhD. With the encouragement and help from my professor and labmates, I decided to pursue a PhD in U.S.

For the past five years at UW-Madison, I have conducted my PhD research with Professor Weiping Tang. We focus on natural product synthesis and method development. During my first three years, I started to think about my post-PhD options: industry versus academia? I had an idea of what academia was like but was not sure if it was the right path. To get a better idea of industrial world, I applied for a summer internship at Procter & Gamble and spent three months in Cincinnati. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the “real world” at a fortune 500 company. It was the first time I was exposed to the real business world. What surprised me was the amount of time spent on business meetings and discussions alongside the more applicable and basic research. It was an eye-opening opportunity. At the end of my internship, I decided that going to industry was the right choice for me because of the business assets, more applicable research, and higher sense of accomplishment. An additional aspect that shaped my decision to enter into industry over academia is how resources are managed. In industry, I felt I had what was needed to succeed in my synthesis. The lab was properly equipped with reagents, tools, and supplies and my time was generally valued. Conversely, there is a constant pressure to save money in academia. Sometimes this means that a PI must hire another postdoc to provide additional publications in pursuit of more grants and ultimately, the tenure of the PI. One glaring example is disposable test tubes. In graduate school we would clean our test tubes and reuse them. However, in industry test tubes are consumables. Furthermore, in academia, even if a reagent was not of high quality or consistency, the price was the deciding factor during purchasing.

Upon returning from my internship with a fresh perspective of what working for a company requires, I was motivated to develop different skills beyond bench research. In graduate school we are lead to believe that publications will provide the path to employment and additional skills are not needed. In reality, additional skills are essential. However, it is not easy to explore alternative topics such as business, speech, negotiation, etc. outside of the lab. It was tough for me to explore these options with a brand new project, a tight research schedule, and multiple personal development plans. As long as you are committed to it, there are always resources and opportunities out there. Unfortunately, my career focus and goals after graduate school are still in flux.

My mission can be summed up in one phrase: making an impact in an industrial setting. My immediate goals are to find a position that will education enhancement through an MBA or business certification. I believe that a PhD is not enough in this tough job environment. Therefore, I am always looking to grow. I know that after mentoring undergraduates and new graduate students I would be an effective manager able to inspire individuals to reach their potential. I have always enjoyed interacting with others. Thus, marketing is extremely intriguing. After my internship with P&G, I feel that I have a lot to learn in business in order to create value in society. With the current economic environment and the patent cliff for pharmaceutical companies I feel that continual improvement with a focus on business development is critical for my future endeavors within the field of chemistry in industry setting.


Na, an organic chemist, just completed her PhD study in pharmaceutical sciences from University of Wisconsin-Madison this summer. She received a bachelor degree in chemistry from Peking University at 2008. She then traveled to the U.S. to pursue a PhD focusing on natural product synthesis and halogenation reaction development in Professor Weiping Tang’s lab. She is an author on eight peer-reviewed publications and one in review on various topics in organic chemistry. She has also attended numerous conferences and has given a presentation at the 2013 American Chemical Society annual meeting. She has industry experience through hersummer internship at Proctor & Gamble (P&G) working on hair dyes. Along with her extensive expertise with total synthesis and methodology in organic chemistry, she was invited and participated in the Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Bootcamp (WEB) at UW-Madison and has years of experience teaching and assisting college level pharmaceutical classes. She is a member of ACS and American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS). In her free time Na likes to volunteer at the animal shelter caring for abandoned and hurt animals. She enjoys skiing, snowboarding, and tutoring in science and mandarin. Na currently resides in Wisconsin with her husband and cat.

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