Zhongwei Hu graduated in 2017 with a Ph.D. in chemistry from Penn State. From his combined experiences of computational and biological chemistry, physics, and mathematics he was able to build a career in industry; he is currently a research scientist at Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Hu gives us insight into his graduate school experiences and the importance of networking and maintaining connections that can benefit future careers.
Kathryn: Why did you choose Penn State University to pursue your Ph.D.? Were you always focused on chemistry?
Zhongwei: Penn State is close to where I attended my undergrad and the Penn State chemistry program was ranked #21 in the US. And even though my undergraduate major was math, I did minor in chemistry.
Kathryn: What facet of chemistry were you most interested in and why?
Zhongwei: I was mostly interested in computational and theoretical chemistry because I wanted to combine math and chemistry (and physics) together.
Kathryn: Was there someone within the chemistry department who had a positive impact on you during your time here?
Zhongwei: There are many! For starters, my advisor Dr. Lasse Jensen and my favorite professor, Dr. Will Noid. There were quite a few members from the Jensen and Noid groups as well.
Kathryn: What resources were most helpful for you when searching for and applying for job opportunities after your time at Penn State?
Zhongwei: My advisor Dr. Lasse Jensen was a great resource. I contacted him almost every time I wanted to make a change in my career. He has continued to be extremely supportive, and it is always a pleasure to talk and catch up with him.
Kathryn: Did you find difficulties in the transition between school and career?
Zhongwei: Not at all. For me, working in industry has been easier compared to people I know who have continued into academia.
Kathryn: What do you think helped you most during your Ph.D. journey get to where you are now?
Zhongwei: I joined the Jensen group to do both method development and applications during my Ph.D. My research focus was atomistic electrodynamics-quantum mechanical methods to model surface-enhanced nonlinear optical spectroscopies. I believe having a background in varied forms of chemistry and coding was highly appreciated when I was applying for jobs in Pharma. Many of these decisions were also made for my growing family.
Kathryn: How can graduate students make the most of their time while in school?
Zhongwei: Keep learning and making connections! Attend meetings and workshops. It is also good to be active on LinkedIn in order to network with alumni and faculty.
Kathryn: What is the advantage of having a background in computational chemistry when applying to industry positions?
Zhongwei: Computational chemistry can definitely help you land a decent job after graduate school. You can code just as well as software engineers, while having the advantage of chemistry, physics, and biology knowledge for applications. It is important to understand the significance of having that extra background knowledge of what experimental chemists/biologists have when going into industry.
Kathryn: Can you explain your current position and what you like most about it?
Zhongwei: I'm currently working for a pharmaceutical company called Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Boston. I am a research scientist there doing cheminformatics and machine learning tasks. The part I like most is that I combine my chemistry knowledge and computer science skills together in my daily tasks. I put to use everything I learned during graduate school.
Kathryn: Looking back on your graduate school experiences, are there opportunities you wish you had taken advantage of?
Zhongwei: Maybe take some extra courses if time had permitted.
Kathryn: Lastly, can you recall your favorite memory as a Penn State Chemistry student?
Zhongwei: The time my first paper got accepted to be published!