Chemistry Graduate Student Profiles 2023-24

March 26, 2024 by Alyx Dellamonica

In the fall of 2023 the department of chemistry welcomed 65 incoming graduate students who will be pursuing their research interests at all three of our UTM (Mississauga), UTSc (Scarborough) and St. George (downtown) campuses. Now that they have had a semester or more to get settled, we are asking a few of them about their research goals, the start of their journeys in chemistry, and why they chose U of T.


A El Salvadorean man with shoulder-length hair and a black cat sits on a stool in front of an abstract painting in blue and teal.

German Cisneros

I'm German Cisneros and I come from El Salvador. I completed my BSc in Analytical Chemistry and Forensic Science and my Master's in Forensic Chemistry and Toxicology at Laurentian University in Sudbury.  During my studies at Laurentian University, I worked with Dr. James Watterson on developing machine learning algorithms and how they can be applied to various fields in Forensic Science. Now at St. George campus, I'm starting my PhD in Analytical Chemistry while I work with the Jockusch group to better understand mass spectrometry and the fluorescence of various macromolecules in the gas phase.

Where did your interest in chemistry come from?

I believe that my interest in chemistry started in high school. I realized that chemistry is all around us and understanding simple reactions and mechanisms allows us to have a greater understanding of how nature works. Furthermore, the use of chemistry in legal matters motivated me to gain greater understanding in Analytical Chemistry and the various techniques that can be applied for detection and quantification of various molecules and compounds.

What did you look forward to most as you began your graduate studies here at U of T?

Since I finished my undergraduate and master's degree during the COVID-19 pandemic, I was looking forward to doing in-lab experiments and engage with fellow researchers. Furthermore, I also look forward to attending conferences and see what other students are researching. 

Were there any surprises when you began?

The biggest surprise I've had so far at UofT is the amount of free time and flexibility that I have with my research. I really enjoy that I am able to pursue research that I'm interested in and learn to use various pieces of equipment in my lab.


Portrait shot of a white woman with long, brown hair and a dark tank top looking into the camera.


Elena Zelenco

Elena Zelenco completed an undergraduate degree in chemistry at Brock University under the supervision of Prof Georgii Nikonov. She now works in the group of Prof Doug Stephan studying low-valent phosphorus cations and their ability to function as components in FLPs in the activation of small molecules..

After doing your undergraduate studies, what was it that made you decide to continue your graduate studies here in the Department of Chemistry?

My interest in chemistry developed during a second-year research course in which I learned about the art (and challenges) of air-sensitive chemistry. I drew a great amount of inspiration from the ability to apply theoretical concepts and ideas to practical experiments, and to be able to use concepts taught in my courses in my research.

What did you look forward to most as you began your graduate studies here at U of T?

I was most looking forward to generating my own ideas and honing my laboratory skills more intensively. I was also very excited for the experience of being a TA and entering a more mentor-centered role as a graduate student.

Have there been any surprises so far?

I was surprised by the degree of self-direction required in research and the number of times I've relied on concepts learned in my undergraduate courses. I was also surprised by how much I still have to learn in the chemistry lab! 


An Asian woman with long black hair stands in front of a river, leaning on a white fence next to a garden containing clusters of red flowers. The sky behind her is blue with white fluffy clouds.

Yanqian Lin

Yanqian was born and grew up in Guangdong, China. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Western University, where her research project involved patterning gold nanoparticles using nanoimprint lithography and examining their characteristics through Raman microscopy. Moving to University of Toronto St. George campus, she is studying the properties of a newly developed polysaccharide, phytoglycogen, and exploring its applications in cosmetics, fragrance release, and oral delivery under the supervision of Prof. Cynthia Goh in the physical chemistry division.. 

Where did your interest in chemistry come from?

My interest in chemistry arose during high school. I find science fascinating, and it's the field I want to work in. I've always had a passion for cosmetic science and the formulation of cosmetic products. If I want to pursue such a career, I need to acquire some chemistry knowledge.

What were you looking forward to most as you began your graduate studies here at U of T?

I was eager to further develop my research and problem-solving skills. As an undergraduate, I didn't have much experience or ideas to drive projects forward. Now, I'm leading my project and I'm fortunate to be part of a highly supportive group.

Were there any surprises?

I was surprised by the multitude of events organized by the department and various clubs. There were numerous activities that helped me get to know other graduate students better. I particularly enjoyed the networking events, where I had the opportunity to hear from alumni and establish connections with them.