We had our Research and Award symposium last Friday (review of that coming soon!) to celebrate our students, particularly our soon-to-be alumni! In view of this, we recently chatted with one of our Alumni, Aaron Kunzer, currently a Senior Medicinal Chemist in the area of Oncology Discovery at AbbVie.
Here’s what he said in our Q&A:
What degree did you obtain from DePaul and what did you do immediately afterwards (go into another degree program, go into the workforce, etc)?
MS Chemistry. I obtained this degree while employed and continued my employment upon graduation.
What is your current position and how long have you been in that position?
Senior Scientist I – Chemistry in Oncology Discovery at AbbVie. I have been in this position for 5 ½ years and have been in various medicinal chemistry positions at AbbVie for the past 18 years.
What types of tasks and activities do you do in your current position (in other words, what actually happens in that job, our students might not know!)?
We design and synthesize potential drug molecules, analyze data from various in vitro and in vivo assays and utilize the data to design iterative rounds of compounds with more potency, better physical properties, etc.
How has your chemistry degree and DePaul education helped you in your career? What were the most beneficial aspects?
My MS from DePaul gave me a deeper understanding of organic chemistry and a great knowledge base in biochemistry as I was unable to fit biochemistry into my undergrad program. One of the most beneficial aspects was great access to supportive faculty to have discussions and get questions answered.
What do you think are the most useful skills to have for your current career?
Medicinal chemistry requires a collection of skills and knowledge: organic chemistry, biochemistry, strong synthetic skills. Perseverance is also essential. Most drug researches never get a drug onto market, so one must be passionate about the work itself.
What advice do you have for current or future DePaul students in order to succeed in Chemistry?
If you are not going on to graduate school or medical school, strongly consider the 5-year MS program. Graduating with your MS with only one additional year of study is a bargain (it took me three years while I worked). All things being equal, it will also differentiate you from other job candidates without an MS degree.
What advice do you have for our graduating students or recent graduates as they look at the next step in their careers?
Get experience wherever you can even if it is temporary or contract work. Be patient. Careers are rarely straight lines. Career paths tend to bend and curve and have detours. This is normal and can expose you to career options you may never have thought about otherwise.