ASU alum receives prestigious NIH early-career award

Arizona State University alumnus Chris Gisriel, currently a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Chemistry at Yale University, was recently awarded a Pathway to Independence Award by the National Institutes of Health.

These awards are given to postdoctoral scientists with promising careers to support independent research while receiving mentoring. The mentoring phase lasts for one to two years, followed by up to three years of independent research in professorship, for a total of up to five years of support. The goal of these awards is to facilitate the transition of postdoctoral scientists into independent, tenure-track (or equivalent) faculty positions.

Gisriel began his undergraduate studies in 2009 in ASU's School of Molecular Sciences. After earning his bachelor’s degree in 2013, he continued his studies in the school, earning his PhD in 2017 under Professor Kevin Redding. Following this, Gisriel was a postdoctoral fellow in Professor Petra Fromme’s lab until 2019.

“Chris started out in our group as an undergrad who really wasn’t too sure about what he wanted to do with his life, but he fairly quickly matured into a serious researcher, " Redding said. "What I remember most strongly about Chris is his fearlessness — he took on some serious challenges, but never let the difficulties deter him. He just figured out what needed to be done, and then did whatever was necessary to solve the problem. One of the greatest joys of my career was watching him become the scientist he is today. This award is well deserved, and I have no doubt that he will continue to experience great success in his future career.”

Here, Gisriel reflects on this experience at ASU and the training he received in the School of Molecular Sciences.

Question: How have your experiences at ASU in the School of Molecular Sciences and the Biodesign Institute prepared you for future success?

Answer: The research faculty and culture at SMS and Biodesign shaped my personal identity as a researcher, which continues to aid in my endeavors today. Together, they have created an environment that leads my field of interest, photosynthesis research. My first glimpse into this community atmosphere was in SMS — at that time called the Department of Chemistry — as an undergraduate researcher in the Redding Lab. The lab member’s passion for research was magnetizing. As I became aware of the broader scope of my research and the people who contributed the most in my field, it became clear that many of the biggest contributors were my colleagues, advisers and mentors at ASU.

Q: What skills did you learn that you continue to utilize?

A: As a person whose career goals entail maintaining well-funded academic research, an important aspect of my scientific upbringing was becoming familiar with the paths that others had taken to achieve success. I found abundant experience with this at SMS and Biodesign. During my graduate experience, I was given the opportunity to participate in writing scientific manuscripts and grant applications, I learned what career strategies would enhance my visibility in a competitive field, and I was immersed in my field of research by attending conferences with my lab members. All of these have been instrumental in my success today.

Q: What do you find most memorable about your time at ASU?

A: What stands out to me is that the community aspect of the research at ASU is very important. More than other universities in my experience so far, my research ideas and goals were encouraged, even at the lowest levels, by giants in my field of study. As long as I approached my goals with enthusiasm and dedication, my success was thoughtfully cultivated by SMS and Biodesign faculty. Namely, Kevin Redding, Petra Fromme, Neal Woodbury, Tom Moore and Bob Blankenship — although Bob did not come back to ASU until the end of my time there — have shaped how I act as a scientist. It is because of their mentorship and guidance, along with the examples they set, that I enjoy success today. I appreciate their investment in me, and I am already in the process of investing in students around me.

James Klemaszewski