Alumni Highlight – Marina Damiano

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Our alumna Marina Damiano, Ph.D., gave a great talk at the departmental research and awards symposium. For those of you who missed the chance to meet Marina and hear about what she has been doing, we chatted with Marina and asked her about life after DePaul. You can connect with Marina on LinkedIn or Twitter. Our questions and her responses are shown below:

  • What degree did you obtain from DePaul and what did you do immediately afterwards (go into another degree program, go into the workforce, etc)?

I earned a B.S. in Chemistry and B.A. German (double major); Minor in Mathematics; and participated in the Honors Program during my time at DePaul.

After DePaul, I earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Northwestern University. My graduate research focused on developing nanoparticle-based therapeutics as alternatives to chemotherapy.

  • What is your current position and how long have you been in that position?

Two years ago, I started Damiano Group, a scientific communications consulting business.

I started my business because I noticed that scientists are not always the best at communicating the exciting and impactful research we do. This is a problem because good communication is necessary for exchanging ideas, piquing the interest of funding organizations, and engaging with the public to increase awareness and encourage action. It’s not only true for individual scientists, but also for the companies and organizations creating new products, services, and policies.

Focusing on researchers and organizations in science and healthcare, I help my clients better communicate the what, how, and so what for their research, product, or service.

  • 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!)?

Every day is different! I work both in the business and on the business, meaning I am responsible for the actual work for my clients and all aspects of running the business.

My client projects fall into two buckets: writing and communications coaching.

Writing projects can range from creating a blog post featured in Nature to a peer-reviewed article in The Patient.

Communications coaching projects can range from coaching a senior Ph.D. student in preparation for a job talk — a research presentation given as part of a job interview in academia and industry — to preparing talking points for a healthcare CEO’s interview in a top online or print publication specific to the life science, pharmaceutical, medical device, and healthcare industries (often called trade media).

If I’m not doing work for a client, I’m strategizing on how to keep current clients happy, pitching new clients, hiring contractors, and doing anything necessary to keep my business running smoothly.

  • How has your chemistry degree and DePaul education helped you in your career? What were the most beneficial aspects?

My chemistry training at DePaul built the foundation for pursuing graduate work. More importantly, the liberal arts emphasis of DePaul provided a well-rounded education and gave me insight into the world outside of the laboratory and academia.

  • What do you think are the most useful skills to have for your current career?

Writing and speaking skills, of course. A basic understanding of science is ideal, but specific technical expertise is not necessary. Your job is to interview experts and ask the right questions to get the information you need to tell their stories.

It is crucial to learn how to read verbal and non-verbal cues when interacting with someone, how to be persuasive, and how to understand the viewpoint of your intended audience.

  •  What advice do you have for our graduating students or recent graduates as they look at the next step in their careers?

Graduate school and bench research in industry are not your only options (though they are fine options, indeed). You can create your own path, but the keyword is “you.” If you want a non-traditional job, you must attend the networking events, send the e-mails, introduce yourself to the speaker after the seminar, ask for advice. Most people had help finding their first job (or maybe even all their jobs) and are happy to give back time to talk about their career paths and assist new graduates. But, you have to make the first move.

  • Do you have anything else you would like to share with our students and alumni?

Developing good written, visual, verbal, and non-verbal communication skills is critical to success, even if you choose not to go into a career in science communication.

Practice talking and writing about science and your research to different audiences as often as you can. Know your audience and what’s important to them. Make sure you have a compelling reason for why they should care about what you’re saying or writing and how they can take action.



Q&A With James Coy-Dibley

Alumni QandA

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James Coy-Dibley was a student that many from the Department interacted with even though he wasn’t a chemistry major. He did well in his courses and eventually became a chemistry tutor. Interestingly, James decided to publish a workbook of chemistry material based on his experience as a tutor. Our chair, Dr. Lihua Jin, asked him a few questions about his time at DePaul recently and here are his answers:

1) What has an education at DePaul done for you?

An education from DePaul University provided me with a seamless combination of academic progress and personal achievement, fueled by both the dedication of outstanding faculty and the plethora of opportunities the university offers its students. From day one, the emphasis of DePaul’s faculty focuses on their students’ success, both in and out of the classroom. At DePaul, it is not just a matter of ensuring that the student thrives within the classes and university setting, but, equally, that the student earns a degree and gains experience that will prepare him or her into a successful career after DePaul. The chemistry department at DePaul embodied this approach, with the dedicated professors providing me with both a fantastic education as well as the several opportunities that propelled me to where I am today.


2) What opportunities have you taken advantage of at DePaul/in the chemistry department that has been critical for your growth as a student/tutor?

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Alumni Highlight: Azra Vilic


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Azra Vilic graduated from DePaul with a BS in Chemistry in 2012, and went on to get a BS in nursing in 2015 from Loyola. She is currently an ICU Nurse as Resurrection Medical Center Chicago. We had a chance to ask her some questions about her career and her time at DePaul.

How did your degree prepare you for your non-traditional chemistry career path, and how has your education at DePaul prepared you for what you are currently doing?

By the time I graduated DePaul, I found myself looking outside of chemistry. After a few laboratory position interviews, I noticed I was not as excited as I wanted to be. So I stepped back and took a risk in trying something completely different. I started working at Misericordia Home, where I helped people with mental and physical disabilities uphold and learn new skills in order to become more independent. My education at DePaul certainly helped me, not from the scientific perspective, but by reminding me of moments that I was frustrated and challenged by chemistry and that I was able to overcome those situations. I knew I wanted to work with people and helping others directly, and nursing naturally became my passion. Nursing school was a different ball game from chemistry but my scientific knowledge definitely helped me understand and process what was going on inside the human body chemically and how those interactions produced the side effects and disease. Chemistry also taught me the discipline that is needed in nursing.  When I interviewed for my current position, the manager thought my background in chemistry was perfect for the knowledge and the critical thinking skills needed in order to succeed at a fast paced ICU. My education at DePaul thought me how to think critically, how to analyze every piece of information given and how multiple things need to align in order for chaos to make sense. And that is exactly how nursing works.

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Alumni Highlight: Kara Brasovan

Dr. Jin recently interviewed one of our alumni, Kara Brasovan. Kara has taken an interesting and exciting career path, enrolling in Law School after her time in the department. It’s important to recognize there are many paths we can take in our careers, and a chemistry major doesn’t limit you to a “standard” chemistry profession.
Here are a few key points from their discussions:
1. What do you suggest to new students and current students in order to help them benefit as much as possible from DePaul and their department?
As young adults, we are trying to create a path to succeed in life and we are still trying to figure out who we are. Choosing the right major and career for ourselves is a difficult task. I felt that the professors I grew close with were able to see that path and realize who I was before I did.  They were then able to help me find myself, choose my major and apply to law school. DePaul faculty dedicate themselves to knowing their students. 
To any new and current students, I suggest to get to know your professors, listen to their suggestions and really take to heart what they have to say. If you really enjoy a topic or a professor, you should be proactive. Ask to do research in the department, go to office hours to discuss topics of interest or just make general appointments and meetings to discuss life. Utilize the best resources you are given at a small department- the professors who know you and see you every day. 
I changed my major 3 or 4 times before I finally decided on Chemistry. I had no idea what career I really wanted. I felt the advice I was given by the professors who watched my grow throughout my college career was the most beneficial.
Kara presents her research at the Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Technology Undergraduate Research Showcase on November 9, 2012.

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Call to Chem Alumi: We need you!


We need you!


We are re-invigorating our commitment to regular advisory board meetings and wanted to see if you are interested in being on the board. The Chemistry Alumni Advisory Board is invited to meet on campus once or twice a year, with the first yearly meeting to be scheduled for mid-to-late fall quarter and the second for late spring quarter; each meeting will be about two hours in length. Our first meeting of 2016 will be May 20th, the same day as our Annual Awards Symposium.

The Alumni Board will make recommendations and offer feedback on ways to improve the chemistry curriculum offerings and program quality, to increase program enrollments (B.S./B.A. and M.S.), to improve the visibility of the Department and the College of Science and Health, and to improve the interaction between the department and alumni. If this interests you, and you think you can attend the May 20th meeting, contact the department as soon as possible and let us know by emailing Dr. Grice, the Development Committee co-chair at We are also looking for alumni to present at the May 20th Awards Symposium after the Alumni Board Meeting. The presentation should be short (ca. 20 min.) and be relevant for our chemistry majors, such as explaining your career path from DePaul to your current position and how your time at DePaul informed that path.

Before a meeting, the Board will be given a list of specific areas for which the department needs feedback and suggestions. But, feedback and suggestions are of course not limited to the list.

The Board will be briefed by the Chair of the Department on the current status of the department, the faculty and their areas of research, and current students and their accomplishments and career paths. During and after the meeting, the Board will have a chance to meet our faculty and staff as well as the students, and ask questions. All meetings will likely occur on Fridays around early afternoon and run for no more than two hours.

Throughout the year, Board members (and any and all alumni!) are encouraged to give feedback and suggestions. Alumni are also encouraged (but not required) to be a part of the Alumni Share Knowledge (ASK), “a network of committed alumni and friends who serve as career mentors, working with students one-on-one, in practice interviews and at job fairs, and speaking at networking events and open houses throughout the university”. “By sharing accomplishments, insights and connections, the ASK volunteer network can help open important doors for professional growth and networking.” For more information on ASK, check out their website:

We look forward to having you back on campus!

Alumni Profile: Erin Wierzbicki, née Gallagher

Erin (Gallagher) Wierzbicki DePaul Chemistry AlumniAssociate Professor and Department Chair, Dr. Lihua Jin recently had the opportunity to talk with Erin Wierzbicki, née Gallagher, who graduated from DePaul in 2012 with a MS in Chemistry. Erin reflects back on her academic career at Depaul, discusses how it has prepared her for her career, and shares advice to current students on how to be a successful student of chemistry.


  • DePaul University, MS Chemistry 2012
  • Northern Michigan University, BS Biochemistry 2010


  • Senior Associate, Global Regulatory Affairs at Hospira, a Pfizer company


  • Biophysical Scientist II at Therapeutic Proteins International
  • Analytical Chemist II at NOW Health Group

Jin: How did your degree prepare you for your non-traditional career path, and how has your education at DePaul prepared you for what you are currently doing?

Wierzbicki: I earned my BS in Biochemistry in 2010 from Northern Michigan University and my MS in Chemistry in 2012 from DePaul University.

While I was in college and graduate school I always assumed that when you get a degree in chemistry you have two choices; you can go to medical school or work in a lab. I found that as I was looking for a job having a MS was a huge advantage since I did not have any industry experience. After 3 months of searching, I got a job working as an analytical chemist and later as a biophysical scientist, where I worked for about 2 years. I used many of the laboratory skills I had learned and found much of my educational experience being directly applied. However, over those two years I found that being a chemist in the “real world” just wasn’t what I thought it would be and I had never thought I would want to do anything else besides work in a lab. Quite frankly, I didn’t know there were other options.

Enter Regulatory Affairs.

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Alumni Profile: Sophia Robinson

Sophia Robinson DePaul Chemistry AlumniSophia Robinson graduated from DePaul in 2015 with a BS/MS in Chemistry.  Here she reflects back on her academic career at DePaul University’s Department of Chemistry with Associate Professor and Department Chair, Dr. Lihua Jin.

Accomplished: DePaul University, BS/MS Chemistry 2015
Current: University of Utah, Organic chemistry graduate student

Jin: How has your MS study at DePaul helped you reach where you are now, a PhD student at a top research lab in the country?

Robinson: As an undergraduate, I switched my major to chemistry in the winter quarter of my junior year because I was enjoying my biochemistry class so much. I realized I wanted to have a career in chemistry but felt I had not yet put enough time in at the bench to commit to a PhD program. With more experience in the lab, I became confident that I had the passion for research and personal drive to succeed in a PhD program.

Having an MS was somewhat advantageous for my graduate school applications as it showed my commitment to my education and that despite additional years of study after undergrad; I was still passionate about chemistry and research. Chemistry PhD programs are making an investment in their students and as an applicant it is important to demonstrate your passion for research, chemistry, and that you have the drive to not only finish the program but hopefully make important contributions to science during your time there.

Jin: What aspects of your MS study at DePaul have been the most beneficial to you for your growth as a graduate student?

Robinson: By far the most beneficial aspect of my MS study was my research experience. The MS program gave me the opportunity to have my own research project with more independence and also the valuable experience of writing a thesis. Having written a MS thesis, I feel better prepared for how to approach my PhD dissertation and most importantly, stay organized to keep putting the whole story together much easier.

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