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Reaxys Prize Winners Share Their Research Experiences and Advice

Posted on April 13th, 2021 by in Chemistry

If there is one thing we at Elsevier have learned over the last 10 years of hosting the Reaxys PhD Prize, it’s that there are many different paths to research success. We have seen incredible work from scientists coming from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and that was again evident with our three winning finalists for the 2020 Reaxys PhD Prize.

When Jianchun Wang, PhD, first began studying polymer chemistry at Peking University, he might not have guessed that he would eventually win the Reaxys prize for his work in organic chemistry. But his open-mindedness and willingness to pursue different areas of chemistry led him from one discipline to the other. And he advises other researchers to consider new opportunities as well.

“I’d encourage anyone to explore a new area,” he says. “Current science is extremely multidisciplinary, and succeeding means learning new skills and learning from others.”

Change for an early-career researcher can be more than focusing on a new discipline – it can also mean moving into a new sector. After doing his PhD at the University of Tokyo and his postdoc at the University of Michigan Biointerfaces Institute, Reaxys prize winner Keiichi Yano went to work for building firm Shimizu Corporation’s Institute of Technology.

He was excited by the prospect of connecting his research in academia to “real-world industry applications.” Currently he is working on the environmental analysis of toxic gasses, which is allowing him to combine knowledge of chemistry, computer science and optics.

“My future goal is to work in collaborations with different companies,” he shares. “For example, if a company is operating in the field of biomedicine or machine learning robotics and they have a problem in the field of chemistry or optics, then I can contribute to the task they’re working on. That kind of bridging between different industries is really interesting to me.”

Some early-career researchers might find the prospect of charging into new sectors or areas of focus intimidating, but it’s important to remember that there are a lot of people in the scientific community who are eager to offer support and guidance. Simply asking for help can often open doors.

Prize winner Rupert Proctor, who got his PhD at the University of Cambridge and did postdoc work in chemical biology, found that just asking helped him land a spot in Professor Christopher Chang’s lab at the University of California, Berkeley. He sent an email asking Prof. Chang to support him for a fellowship in the lab, and the professor agreed to work with him to find fellowships to apply for—which eventually led to a successful application.

“It can be nerve-wracking,” he admits, “Especially because I was changing field and moving somewhere with a very strong reputation.” But he believes it’s worth it to reach out and make the effort. “People are really friendly and very happy to help. You just have to overcome the fact that it’s a bit daunting.”

You can learn more about all of the 2020 Reaxys PhD Prize finalists and their research here.

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