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Austin T. Weigle, Graduate Student in Chemistry joined Shukla Group in 2019.

Where are you from? What was your undergraduate degree and from which university?

I was born in New Jersey but grew up and went to school in Kennebunk, Maine. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Plant Biology with a concentration in Biochemical and Molecular Physiology from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2017. 

Why did you choose the University of Illinois and the Chemistry Department?

I chose to study Plant Biology because I was interested in what plants could do for society. Excited about plant natural products and what they could do, I realized that I would need to switch fields from Plant to Chemical Biology.

One of the biggest reasons I chose the University of Illinois and its Chemistry Department was for its community. The broad scope of the Chemical Biology area was a huge plus in that I was able to study Chemistry at a high level while coming from a more biological background. The University of Illinois has tremendous resources across campus, and I really liked the offerings of my program. The Chemistry Department is able to maintain a high standard for excellence while providing a supportive environment, something I have felt since the visit weekend.

Tell us about your research interests. What lab do you work in and what is your role in the lab?

As I learned more during my graduate program, I realized how important protein-ligand interactions are at the atomistic level in influencing biological chemistry. I am starting out in the Shukla group by working on SWEET transporters, specifically looking at the basis of their chemical selectivity during molecular recognition and understanding the physical and structural determinants behind their functional regulation. The idea is that understanding their mechanism for sensing sugars and plant hormones could improve agricultural productivity.

What are your plans after you receive your Ph.D.?

My main career goals are to better connect med chem and plant biotech through chemical systems biology, and to be in a career position where I can mentor others. Right now, I am thinking of academia, but am also open to industry. After my PhD I am thinking of doing a postdoc where I can better understand gene regulatory networks.

What do you do outside of the lab?

I really enjoy listening to music and following some of my favorite bands (a mix of indie electronic, rock, and neo-classical music). I was a high jumper in college and really enjoy working out. I love playing strategy games of any kind and hanging out with friends and family.

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