Chemistry degree and research experience prepares alumnus for PhD program

March 12, 2019

Editor's note: This profile is part of a series showcasing alumni of the School of Molecular Sciences.

Regaled with tales of science during many walks with his dad in Chico, California, Nick Herringer has known since he was a little kid that he wanted to be a scientist. Nick Herringer Nick Herringer Download Full Image

In 2018, Herringer graduated from the School of Molecular Sciences at Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry; he is currently doing research at the Biodesign Institute with Matthias Heyden, assistant professor at the School of Molecular Sciences. His project focuses on modelling liquid-liquid phase separation in intrinsically disordered proteins.

“Since joining my lab at ASU, Nick has quickly mastered the art of computer programming and molecular simulation,” said Heyden. “Using this skill set, Nick develops novel multiscale simulation techniques to predict the phase behavior of intrinsically disordered proteins.”

Herringer was attracted to ASU and the School of Molecular Sciences because he always wanted to study chemistry.  

“I liked that ASU has so many opportunities to offer because it allowed me to design my undergraduate experience to include the things that were most important to me.”

When asked what it was like getting his undergraduate degree at ASU, Herringer said his experience was great but very busy. Coming from out of state, he spent a lot of time building new connections with friends and trying new clubs. Herringer worked as a server and a tutor during his undergraduate years, but grades were always very important to him.

Getting a chemistry degree helped him prepare for his current position, Herringer said.

“The theory that I learned in my chemistry and physics classes has been indispensable in my research,” said Herringer. “I have also had to learn a variety of different software and computational techniques so I think it would be great if SMS offered introductory classes on computational research techniques.”

Herringer said he had great experiences with many of his professors and found the curriculum to be challenging yet engaging. He described a defining moment in his academic career as when he defended his honors thesis. That moment represented his first successful completion of a research project and gave him a taste of what the next five years of his life will likely look like, as he will be pursuing a PhD in computational chemistry in the fall.

He said that the most useful thing he learned is how to manage his time. During his undergrad, he was constantly pulled between classes, working, having a social life and extracurricular activities, so learning how to balance his schedule and prioritize his responsibilities was crucial: It's one that still applies to his everyday life.

Herringer offered some advice to incoming School of Molecular Sciences students: "If you have an interest, get involved in research early." He regrets not getting involved sooner and would also encourage students to try both experimental and computational research.

Alumni and Special Events Coordinator, School of Earth & Space Exploration


School of Molecular Sciences graduate excels at UC Berkeley

March 12, 2019

Editor's note: This profile is part of a series showcasing alumni of the School of Molecular Sciences.

Ryan Muller graduated from ASU in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science degree in medicinal biochemistry with a focus on molecular biosciences and biotechnology. A graduate of Barrett, The Honors College, he won a Goldwater Scholarship — the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering in the country. Muller is currently a fourth-year doctoral student in the University of California, Berkeley's molecular and cell biology program. Ryan Muller Ryan Muller in his lab at UC Berkeley. He graduated from ASU with a B.S. degree in medicinal biochemistry in 2015. Download Full Image

We asked Muller some questions about his student experience at ASU and how his undergraduate career here helped prepare him for his current work in academia and research. Muller is broadly interested in RNA biology and specifically studies mRNA translation regulation and ribosome quality control. He uses a combination of classic biochemistry and computational methods in his research.

Question: Why or how did you choose your current career path?

Answer: I chose to pursue a PhD as part of a larger goal toward professorship because I am interested in understanding how the world works on a deeper level. My career trajectory gives me the freedom to answer interesting questions, to use cutting-edge techniques and to interact and discuss ideas with fellow scientists.

Q: How did your undergraduate experience in the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU prepare you for your current career path?

A: ASU was quite supportive of my interests in science and research. I took the opportunity to explore classes outside of my comfort zone and engage in research early in my undergraduate career. With an early start in research and a wealth of support from faculty and peers alike, I was able to build a strong foundation that set me up to excel in academic research.

Q: What is it like applying your degree in a new area?

A: It is at once both exciting and daunting. In research, the answers often cannot be found in a textbook, because they simply don't exist yet. I strive to use what I have learned in my degree to piece together what has yet to be discovered.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories of ASU — academic, research or otherwise?

A: During my freshman and sophomore years at ASU, I had the opportunity to participate in iGEM, a synthetic biology research competition. iGEM was my first taste of independent research and I cherished the freedom to design and implement a synthetic biology strategy with real-world impact. My favorite memories of the iGEM experience were the conferences, where I had the chance to present my work and interact with synthetic biology researchers. Our team even won a gold medal at the competition!

Q: What is your advice for current students in the School of Molecular Sciences who are thinking of pursuing a career path similar to yours?

A: Research develops a new way of thinking about problems in your field that goes beyond the standard coursework and naturally sets you up well for a career in academia. My advice is 1) Get involved in research — the earlier the better. 2) Don't get discouraged if a professor turns you down; there are a plethora of labs at ASU with exciting research and an interest in training undergraduates. 3) Explore and utilize all the resources ASU has to offer: For example, pursuing funds available for traveling and presenting research; listening to invited speakers and seminar series for nearly all the science subdisciplines; asking for advice from the ASU staff members who are hired specifically to investigate competitive research scholarships and provide advice and application edits; taking advantage of a number of programs at ASU that will provide research stipends; and many others.

Q: What would you tell a prospective ASU student that they need to know about studying in the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU?

A: Like most things worth doing in life, working toward a degree from the School of Molecular Sciences is hard work. That being said, if you're proactive and not shy about asking for help, there are abundant resources and people more than willing to offer their assistance to help you reach your goals. Success in the School of Molecular Sciences is about becoming an independent learner while also understanding how to network for resources and opportunities along the way. If you are interested in understanding how nature works at the molecular scale and are willing to put in the necessary work, the School of Molecular Sciences will be a good fit for you.

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences