Preparing for impact:

Cindy Chelius shares what drives her research

Excerpt from "Preparing for impact: Four new UMBC grads share what drives their research"


It’s 3 a.m., and Cindy Chelius rolls out of the pull-out couch in the grad student lounge. Time to check on her fungi. For this experiment, measurements must be taken every four hours for forty hours. Thankfully, the undergraduates she mentors took the day shift. Tonight, as the lead on the project, it’s her turn.

“I think it just makes you feel like you really earned it when those results come back,” Chelius says. She has earned it—on December 18, she’ll walk across the stage to receive her Ph.D. in chemical and biochemical engineering from UMBC. The signaling pathways of fungi might seem like niche research, but fungal species are commonly used in industry as tiny, living factories. They can produce substances found in an array of products, including medications.

After graduation, Chelius will take her skills to Bristol-Myers Squibb’s upstream processing development team in Devens, Massachusetts. She’ll help the company improve the ways they use organisms to produce therapeutic compounds. 

Chelius’s UMBC experience has prepared her well for a research career in ways that go beyond a successful dissertation. Encouraged by her Ph.D. advisor, Mark Marten, professor and chair of chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering, Chelius learned how to use bioreactors. “These industry positions really like someone coming in with that working knowledge,” she explains.

Chelius also took advantage of the Biochemical Regulatory Certification program at UMBC, organized by Tony Moreira, vice provost for academic affairs. It’s a four-course series including training in FDA regulations and good manufacturing practices, local lab tours, and more. “I think it really helped with my job interviews, because I was able to understand the acronyms they were talking about and reference the literature on these topics,” Chelius says.

She’s also expanded her cultural awareness by being active in a dynamic, diverse department with students and faculty from across the U.S. and the world. By participating in department intramural basketball and soccer teams and other departmental social events, “I definitely learned a lot more about different cultures and opinions,” Chelius shares. “Everyone comes from different places here, and it’s been awesome.”

Photo: Cindy Chelius, Ph.D. ’19 (third from left) with her advisor Mark Marten (far left) and the rest of their lab group.  Photo Credit: Melissa Penley Cormier 

Posted: December 19, 2019, 10:28 AM