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A Conversation with Dr. JR Schmidt: Celebrating 20 Years of Beckman Scholars

Then: 1998 Beckman Scholars Program Award Recipient, Hope College
Now: Associate Professor – Chemistry Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Jordan JR Schmidt Headshot.jpg

AMBF: Prior to college, were you curious about a career in science?

JS: I certainly had a strong interest in science well before college or even high school. By high school, I was relatively confident that I wanted to pursue science as a career. My decision to move into an academic career was much later, in graduate school.

AMBF: What exposure did you have to knowing what research in a laboratory would be like?

JS: Very little, other than high school lab experiences and science fairs!

AMBF: When you heard about the Beckman Scholar opportunity, what inspired you to apply?

JS: I learned about the Beckman Scholar program from my undergraduate advisor, William Polik, who encouraged me to apply.

AMBF: What was your research focused on? What were the results?

JS: My Beckman research focused on the development of a web-based application for doing computational chemistry research and teaching. The project flourished, and is still used (by thousands of colleges, universities, and companies) and actively maintained via a collaboration between myself and my former undergraduate adviser.

AMBF: How did the experience change your thinking about science and conducting research?

JS: The ability to conduct a long-term, sustained research project was transformative. There is so much that can be accomplished in two years that CANNOT simply be done over 10 weeks in a summer.

AMBF: Where did you go after graduation and where are you now?

JS: Grad school at University of Wisconsin-Madison (PhD ’06, with Prof. Jim Skinner), postdoc at Yale University (’06-’08, with Prof. John Tully). Subsequently I received several academic offers, ultimately accepting a position back at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Promoted to Associate Professor in 2015.

AMBF: What effect did the Beckman Scholar experience have on your career?

JS: Obviously, the experience had a durable impact. These successes also launched my graduate (and ultimately, academic) career.

AMBF: Do you have any advice for undergraduates considering a research career?

JS: Find an area you love and work hard! If you don’t love what you are doing, you will not excel in graduate school.

AMBF: Any final thoughts?

JS: Thanks! It was a great program and had a big impact on my future trajectory. Things like that are always hard to see at the time, but more obvious in retrospect.