Svetlana Gelpi-Dominguez: Graduate Student Success Story

Undergraduate Institution: B.A., Universidad del Turabo (2015)

Graduation Institution: Ph.D. Candidate in Chemistry, UConn

How did you choose your particular internship?

“In January 2016, I went to a High Performance Computing conference (HPC) looking for possible non-academic work opportunities for computational chemists. I was encouraged by a member of Lawrence Livermore to reach out to their current staff scientists so I could establish new connections in the lab that were more aligned with the research I have been conducting in graduate school. Even though their deadlines for that summer passed, I still decided to reach out to several people to know what my options were for future internship/collaboration opportunities. After a few weeks I received a response from the Biochemical and Biophysical systems group leader at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Dr. Felice Lightstone. She told me that even though the deadline for the Computational Chemistry internship had passed, the director of the program agreed to open it so I could apply and participate for summer 2017!”

What new skills or knowledge have you gained from participating in your internship?

“During my internship, I learned the basics on constructing a database, how to write scripts in Python, and I worked on developing an automated and efficient workflow for computer aided drug design.”

Who has been the biggest influence on your career-related decisions during your time in graduate school or on your decision to pursue an internship?

“I believe people pursuing any career must have many mentors that specialize in different areas of your career development. The mentor who insisted I keep reaching out to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is Tony Baylis. Tony has consistently been mentoring me to keep searching for new opportunities to broaden my research experience as a young scientist. Another person who was my sponsor and helped me achieve this opportunity is Dr. Miguel Morales-Silva. I worked with him as an undergraduate at Lawrence Livermore. He was able to tell Dr. Lightstone about his experience with me as an intern under his tutelage. I also had people who I consider emotional support mentors. These were my family members and Kim Rivera. Mrs. Rivera is an Administrative Assistant at Lawrence Livermore. She has always been a silent cheerleader during my career and has always given me the support I need during any career decision I have had regarding Lawrence Livermore.”

Describe your role in your internship.

My main goals during the summer were to answer these two questions: 1)Are 3D structures determined by ab-initio methods better to use than those created empirically from smiles strings in descriptor and fingerprint calculations?, and 2)Are MOE-like descriptors/fingerprints the same as those created by MOE. MOE is a commercial software code that LLNL pays $15K a year for, and it does some really cool things, but not at the scale LLNL needed. Answering this question will help LLNL decide if another software that can be run in parallel could be used for the future of these calculations.”

What advice would you give to current UConn graduate students who are looking to go on the same path?

“The advice I would give is threefold:

1. Get to know the companies you are interested in working at and their research interests. Reach out to people even if you think they will never reply back to you (I thought Dr. Lightstone would never respond to my e-mail since she is such a busy person!).

2. Go to conferences and network. The first person I met from LLNL was at an ERN conference in 2014. I kept following up and asking for any opportunities they had to offer and eventually was offered an opportunity as an undergraduate to participate in a summer internship with them.

3. Be open with your research advisor and make sure they know about your professional goals.”

By Sydney Carr
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