UMSL PhD student earns science award, lands job at Monsanto

Elena Vasilieva, a doctoral student in chemistry, is the recipient of the 2014 Center for Nanoscience Ciel DeGutis Award for Research Excellence. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Elena Vasilieva doesn’t graduate from the University of Missouri–St. Louis until August, and yet, she has already landed a full-time job.

Vasilieva, who will earn her PhD in chemistry this summer, began working at Monsanto in June as a biologist II. She is part of a team that focuses on protein expression and purification.

Vasilieva, 26, hails from Chisinau, Moldova. She obtained her bachelor’s degree at Lindenwood University in 2009 before enrolling at UMSL where she earned her master’s degree in chemistry in 2012 and will soon obtain her doctoral degree.

“At UMSL, I have learned how to think and work independently in research, and I have expanded my knowledge about biochemistry and related sciences,” she said.

Even as she wraps up her academic career at UMSL, she continues to earn accolades from those around her. Vasilieva is the 2014 recipient of the Center for Nanoscience Ciel DeGutis Award for Research Excellence.

The award was endowed by George Gokel, Distinguished Professor of Science and director of UMSL’s Center for Nanoscience, in honor of his wife’s grandmother. The award is presented annually to a student associated with the center who has made a significant contribution to the field of nanoscience. It comes with a $500 prize.

Vasilieva was nominated for the honor by Cynthia Dupureur, professor of chemistry at UMSL. Vasilieva, a member of Dupureur’s research group, was thrilled to be singled out for her efforts.

Cynthia Dupureur (left), professor of chemistry at UMSL, poses with Elena Vasilieva, a doctoral student in chemistry and the recipient of the 2014 Center for Nanoscience Ciel DeGutis Award for Research Excellence. (Photo by August Jennewein)

“The award made me realize that in the last five years of hard work I made enough significant scientific progress to be recognized by Dr. Dupureur and the award committee,” she said. “The award made me a more confident scientist and recognized me as someone who can make a difference.”

In her nominating form, Dupureur praised Vasilieva for demonstrating a high level of professionalism, adaptability and productivity.

“Elena is an exceptionally productive and versatile young scientist. Her accomplishments reflect well on the Center,” Dupureur said.

She also noted Vasilieva’s involvement in two major collaborations during her doctoral work. Her research involved studying diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease and drug development for Human Papillomavirus.

“It is important to stress that both projects involve a great deal of exacting quantitative work, more demanding than what most PhD students are doing,” Dupureur wrote in her nominating paper.

Vasilieva was the co-author of a paper published this year. In addition to publications, she has made oral presentations at meetings and presented posters of her work a number of times. She was the vice president of the Chemistry Graduate Student Association for two years.

This is the third year the Ciel DeGutis award was presented to a UMSL student. Gokel said he endowed the award because he wanted the Center for Nanoscience at UMSL to recognize its own participants just as academic departments do.

“I hope it serves as incentive for other people,” Gokel said. “I think it’s important for students to have recognition among their peers that they’ve done a good job.”

In addition to the award and financial prize the awardee receives an individual plaque, and his or her name is also inscribed on a large plaque housed in the lobby of the William L. Clay Center for Nanoscience building on UMSL’s North Campus.

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