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Unlocking the potential of the Reaxys PhD prize – insights from 4 winners and finalists

Posted on March 2nd, 2020 by in Chemistry

The Reaxys PhD Prize, which honors young chemists for their innovative research, is now in its 10th year. It is a worldwide competition, open to those who are doing (or have recently completed) their PhD in any area of chemistry. Finalists each year automatically become a part of the Reaxys Prize Club, an exclusive international network of chemists from all research areas and career paths. Members of the club are also awarded with a broad range of benefits including free access to Reaxys, travel grants to network and explore research collaborations, and much more.

Although finalists for the Reaxys PhD Prize all begin in academia, the prize and the club have proven to be amazing gateways into the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Here we highlight four men and women who were previous winners and finalists for the Reaxys PhD Prize, and have gone on to find success everywhere from exciting start-ups to major pharmas. 

Dr. Martin Donakowski
Winner, 2013

After earning a PhD from Northwestern University in 2014, Dr. Donakowski was a postdoc at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and then later moved to start-up company SiNode before taking on his current role as a consultant at the scientific research company Exponent. His field is material science, and he’s currently using chemistry to evaluate battery cells that have failed, and to evaluate devices to increase battery charge capabilities and to prevent future battery failures.


“Being a Reaxys PhD Prize winner helped me in my career. It helped me shine a spotlight on specific aspects of my research that might have gotten lost in an overview of my graduate work. For example, the fundamental (academic) chemistry that I did,” says Dr. Donakowski.

“I’ve also had the opportunities to interact with more chemists, and particularly with more organic chemists, than I would have in a normal graduate and postdoc career. At the Reaxys PhD Prize Symposium, I met a great group of people and that’s continued at other academic conferences since then.”

Dr. Andy Chapman
Finalist, 2011

Graduating from the University of Bristol in 2012 with a PhD that focused on organometallic chemistry and catalysis, Dr. Chapman continued this focus through a post-doctoral project under Professor Piet van Leeuwen at ICIQ in Spain. He then joined a London-based start-up where he put his organometallic training to practice working on new catalyst technology for turning CO2 into plastic. Dr. Chapman went on to serve as Senior Lecturer at Kingston University before returning to industry, first as CSO at Ziylo, then as co-founder and CSO of the specialist chemistry company Carbometrics.


“There are not many ways you can stand out from the crowd of fantastic PhD graduates coming out of UK universities. A great validation for your papers is to show they were a candidate for the Reaxys Prize,” says Dr. Chapman. “I had made some great connections through the network that were vital for me.”

Dr. Anna Wagner
Finalist, 2014

Following an academic career that included getting her PhD at the University of Michigan and postdoc work at Stanford University, Dr. Anna Wagner joined Gilead Sciences in California, where she works as a senior research scientist in the Process Chemistry Department.


“The networking opportunities associated with the Reaxys Prize Club are amazing. I still keep in touch with people I met at the symposium. That said, successfully tapping into that network depends on you: you have to actively network and make and build and maintain those connections. You have to talk to people at the poster session and the dinner and the events at the Reaxys PhD Prize Symposium. I know that can be challenging for some but it’s the way of the world: we all have to make connections to succeed.”

Dr. Emma McInturff
Finalist, 2014

In 2014, Dr. Emma McInturff finished her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied synthetic organic chemistry, focusing on the development of hydrogenative, ruthenium-catalyzed carbon–carbon bond-forming reactions. She is now a Principal Scientist in the Process Chemistry Group at Pfizer, working with a large team of medicinal and process chemists, engineers and other researchers to bring new drugs to market.


“The Reaxys prize provides something to get excited about — the opportunity to attend a conference to hear about high-level research and see the world while doing it!” says Dr. McInturff.

“When I was a student, I think I underestimated the value of my network within the chemistry community. The Reaxys PhD Prize presented an opportunity to expand my network with other prize finalists. That came with exposure to inspirational research from universities and companies outside of my immediate circle.”

The 2020 Prize – Submit by March 11

The Reaxys PhD Prize is a unique global competition open to PhD-level scientists from all research areas related to chemistry.

Our mission is to celebrate some of the brightest young minds in chemistry by recognizing the outstanding research of ambitious, talented and innovative early-career researchers.

2020 represents an important milestone for this prestigious award as we celebrate our tenth anniversary, the incredible changes in chemistry research over the past decade, and of course our growing Reaxys Prize Club community!

The Reaxys PhD Prize 2020 is now open and the submission deadline is March 11. Not only will finalists get international recognition for their research, but they will also be invited to present their work at the Reaxys PhD Prize Symposium in Toronto later this year. Find out how to apply today before it’s too late!

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