“CBI provided such a network of people with whom to discuss science – I felt far more comfortable bouncing ideas off other students (and faculty) in different groups that were part of CBI because I got to know them …”
–Jennifer Palenchar, Associate Professor, Villanova University
Our objective is to train new chemists and biologists who can discuss biological and biomedical problems in a common language that transcends molecular scales, from the atomistic to the cellular level, providing exposure and training in techniques to design, manipulate or build molecules, polymers/biopolymers, biochemical or cellular systems while maintaining a solid foundation in their area of doctoral study.
The Delaware Chemistry-Biology Interface Program is part of the CBI training grant program funded by the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences. The program provides additional opportunities for doctoral students to gain exposure to scientific concepts, methods from both chemical and biological sciences.
CBI Orientation: Beginning with the initial August orientation of CBI trainees during their first semester in the CBI program, the Program Co-Directors (with support from other faculty and graduate students of the CBI program) adopt a vital role in their selection of rotations, selection of courses, choice of PhD mentor (if in 1st year), progress toward degree and future career plans; they begin to formulate Individual Development Plans (IDPs). Students admitted in the 1st year select a PhD research advisor following their 3rd rotation. Prior to the trainee’s arrival on campus, each is sent a detailed welcome e-mail by the Program Directors along with a rotation booklet, describing specific rotations in CBI trainers’ laboratories. All of the first year students that perform rotations in the fall will select their rotation prior to coming to campus. Orientation takes place on two consecutive days with the following goals: 1) provide information and resources for incoming students regarding the mission and expectations of the CBI program; 2) establish social connections between the incoming cohort and also current CBI students and investigators; and 3) connect all these individuals on a scientific level. Incoming CBI fellows will meet with their pre-assigned CBI peer-mentor (See Mentoring below). Orientation will include a poster session/mini symposium, in which the current CBI trainees will present their research in a poster format. New students will give 15-minute talks at a mini-symposium formerly introducing them to the CBI community. At the poster session, students have the opportunity to connect with the people that they may ultimately rotate or collaborate with during their journey in the CBI program.
Lab Rotations: Prior to choosing a doctoral research advisor CBI students are given the opportunity to conduct research rotations in different departments and scientific areas. For students in the departments of Chemistry & Biochemistry or Biological Sciences, rotations start during Fall semester and last through winter session. For students in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, rotations start during winter session and last through spring semester. Students may choose to work for any of the CBI faculty trainers while pursuing doctoral degrees in their home departments.
Mentoring: The CBI program, through the roles played by the Program Co-Directors, its faculty, other CBI trainees and CBI alumni add significantly to the mentoring of each student. We have had success in the Program Co- Directors leading a RCR training session on “Mentoring”. These sessions have served the dual purpose of providing an important RCR topic while simultaneously highlighting the mentoring that each CBI trainee should receive from PhD mentors, PhD committee members, CBI faculty and senior CBI trainees. We will continue to offer this session as part of the CBI orientation program. Students admitted in the 2nd year have previously selected a CBI mentor. Naturally, the PhD mentor becomes the most significant mentor, however the Program Co-Directors continue to serve a significant supporting role, mentoring the CBI trainee throughout the duration of their graduate career.
Meetings/Seminars: The heart of the CBI program centers around the weekly meetings and seminars which provide opportunities for students to present and critically evaluate research from multiple disciplines. Students also get to interact with invited speakers from around the country and learn about cutting edge research from faculty and fellow students. These experiences are supplemented by career workshops, travel opportunities, and symposia involving regional CBI programs.
Curricula: Our CBI program will provide a diverse multidisciplinary training experience while providing a well-grounded education in core disciplines. We believe that it is essential for trainees to feel enabled and not restricted by being a CBI trainee. To serve as a rough guide for both the trainees and mentors, we expect each student to have experience through courses or rotations in each of four hierarchical scales of biomolecular complexity; atomistic, macromolecular, multi-molecular and cellular systems. This plan provides substantial flexibility to the trainee while insuring that CBI trainees are conversant in the language of both chemistry and biology. For clarity, an example of atomistic science might be a course in mechanistic enzymology, a rotation in a synthetic lab or investigating the consequences of a site-directed mutant. On the other end of the scale, cellular systems could include in vivo studies (E. coli, yeast, drosophila, mice, etc.) or tissue culture. The model that works very successfully for the our CBI program is one in which the Program Co-Directors work with each student, their respective director of graduate studies and if applicable current research advisor to customize a personalized curriculum that meets the objectives of the training grant, the needs of the student and the degree requirements for the individual doctoral programs. Students are however, united by a few select required courses: CBI Experience (CHEM606), a chemical biology course and a statistics class. To ensure rigor and reproducibility in their research, students can choose either STAT656: Biostatistics, CHEG841: Fundamentals of Probability and Statistics, or BISC643: Biological Data Analysis. Students should enroll in one of two core chemical biology courses: CHEM636: Bioorganic Chemistry and Chemical Biology or MSEG667: Macromolecular Design and Bioconjugations. These core classes will arm students with knowledge at the interface, which will help them think creatively during their graduate studies.
Students entering the program, as Y-2s will enroll in CHEM606 during the fall semester of their 2nd year; this will be their 1st year in the CBI program. Trainees will have already selected a laboratory of a CBI trainer, which might eliminate the need for additional rotations. Trainees will work closely with the Program Co-Directors and their faculty mentor to determine if an additional rotation outside their expertise would strengthen their PhD project at the interface of chemistry and biology. Each CBI trainee continues to actively participate by registering for CHEM606, presenting to the community as they advance through their graduate studies, and in that sense are officially enrolled in the “CBI Experience” throughout their graduate career. Additionally, these advanced students will continue to benefit from receiving feedback and ideas to broaden and tune their research. This holistic “CBI Experience” serves to unite our student community. It is noteworthy, that this commitment made by incoming trainees has been upheld consistently, and it has cumulatively had a major impact on their training as well as building a vibrant community in the CBI program. The enrichment opportunities afforded by each student’s continued active participation in the CBI Experience include: giving research updates to the CBI community, attending other student’s updates and actively participating in scientific discussions, hearing about research and meeting outside speakers from industry and academics (including alumni CBI presenters), career development workshops, reproducibility workshop in the January term and RCR sessions, as well as serving as peer mentors.
Program Administration: The CBI program is coordinated by an Executive Committee composed of Brian Bahnson and Catherine Leimkuhler Grimes (Program Co-Directors, Chemistry & Biochemistry), Mary Boggs (Associate Director, DBI), John Koh (Associate Director, Chemistry & Biochemistry), April Kloxin (Associate Director, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering), Salil Lachke (Associate Director, Biological Sciences).
CBI Advisory Board members include:
Internal Members: Dr. Colin Thorpe (Chemistry & Biochemistry), Dr. Melinda Duncan (Biological Sciences), Dr. Abraham Lenhoff (Chemical & Biochemical Engineering), Dr. Lynn Snyder-Makler (Physical Therapy); Ophelia Ukaegbu (Chemistry & Biochemistry); Mike Clupper (Biological Sciences); DeVonte Moore (Chemistry & Biochemistry).
External Member: Dr. Mark Nelson (DuPont retired); Dr. Nikki Goodwin (GlaxoSmithKline); Dr. Anna Hull (Dept of Biology, Lincoln University); Dr. Jennifer Palanchar (Dept. of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Villanova); Dr. Marc Greenberg (Dept. of Chemistry, Johns Hopkins).