Each year, the National Science Foundation recognizes and supports outstanding graduate and doctoral students through the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Tyler Doyon, 2015 graduate of UM-Flint Chemistry and Biochemistry, is a proud recipient of the Fellowship—and UM-Flint's second recent graduate to be honored.
Doyon is currently a second year Ph.D. candidate in the University of Michigan's Chemical Biology Doctoral Program. His work is in the field of biocatalysis, or using natural substances—in Doyon's case enzymes—to catalyze (or speed up) challenging chemical transformations.
UM-Flint Chemistry's Department Chair, Jessica Tischler, Ph.D., remembers Tyler for being a top student and for being a good communicator of chemistry. "Besides just being a good researcher, the NSF is looking to promote scientists who can also communicate their science not just to others in their profession but to the general public and to students," she noted. "I think these qualities were recognized in [Tyler's] applications for the fellowship."
Being named as a fellowship recipient is a significant honor for Tyler and for UM-Flint, she continued. "Only 2000 fellowships are given out in all of the disciplines nationwide. Both their current institution and their undergraduate institution are recognized as integral parts of the student's likely success."
The NSF Fellowship will allow Doyon to focus on his research with more security, flexibility, and independence than he might otherwise have had.
Inspiration in a UM-Flint Chemistry Lab
Doyon entered UM-Flint as freshmen, originally intending to follow a pre-med path to become a physician. "It wasn't until after my junior year, after taking several chemistry courses and beginning as a research assistant, that I realized that my interests had changed," he recalled.
Doyon served as a research assistant to associate professor Nicholas Kingsley, Ph.D. "My research is very different from what his career aspirations were at the time he started doing research," remembered Kingsley. "I talked with him about whether he was sure he wanted to work with me because of those difference, and he said he simply wanted to get in the lab and gain some experience doing research and fell in love with doing it."
During his nearly three years working on synthetic inorganic chemistry as Kinglsey's research assistant, Doyon conducted high-level and independent research. "The research he did that became the crux of his honors thesis would have been adequate for a masters degree at most institutions," said Kingsley. "He was not only excellent with his skills in the lab, he was dedicated and passionate—always wanting to do one more reaction or check for one more thing."
Research at UM-Flint often leads students beyond the lab, as was the case for Doyon. According to Kingsley, "[Tyler] presented posters on his work as well as a talk at Meeting of the Minds in Dearborn. He was first author on our publication in the Journal of Organometallic Chemistry, writing part of the introduction and all of the procedural components." Kingsley also noted that there is at least one additional paper's worth of work that Doyon completed that will eventually be published.
Being a UM-Flint Student and Beyond
Time spent in the research lab was just one aspect of the foundation Doyon built during his undergraduate years. "The UM-Flint Chemistry and Biochemistry faculty and staff all played a tremendous role in helping me to develop skills as a chemist, as well as in my professional development," he said.
"The small class size at UM-Flint is an incredible asset to students like me, as it allows us to work closely with professors and conduct original research. I owe a great deal to Dr. Kingsley and all of the department for their guidance and mentorship over the years," concluded Doyon.
Dr. Tischler noted that the skills Doyon learned while studying chemistry are important for all students who want to be successful. "You want a passion for what you want to do," she urged. "Be curious for how the world around us works. Be willing to persevere when experiments fail or you get the wrong answers—because that is how real science works. You need to be willing to learn from those mistakes."
Doyon added that he would advise UM-Flint students to "approach your studies with an open mind and don't be afraid to change direction if you find your passions leading you elsewhere."
It was an approach that has certainly paid off for Doyon.
Dr. Kingsley looks forward to seeing what Tyler will do during his time with the NSF Fellowship and after. "I am so incredibly proud of Tyler and all of his accomplishments," said Kingsley. "So very few people are awarded these and its a great honor for him to have been a part of my research lab. The sky is the limit for his career post-UM-Flint. He is representing our department and university exceptionally."