Navigating Chemical Space, Career and Family

Ryan Shenvi, PhD
Department of Chemistry
Scripps Research, La Jolla

DATE: Tuesday, June 12, 2021


PLACE: Your Computer




Ryan Shenvi completed his B.S. studies at Penn State University where he did research with Prof. John Desjarlais on protein biophysics and Prof. Raymond Funk on chemical synthesis. He earned his Ph.D. as an NDSEG Doctoral Fellow with Prof. Phil Baran at The Scripps Research Institute, and then joined the laboratory of Prof. E. J. Corey at Harvard University as an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow. He began his career in 2010 at The Scripps Research Institute and was tenured in 2014. In 2015, he became the primary caretaker of four children (ages 0–4) for five years, while his wife undertook a surgical residency.


The Shenvi Group conducts research on the chemistry of “natural products”. These are small molecules that control the state and fate of individual cells, tissues, and organisms. Unlike most FDA-approved small molecules, natural products exhibit a high degree of asymmetry and non-planarity. Viewed as information carriers, natural products condense a remarkable amount of data into a very small volume.

Shenvi will discuss how the beauty and challenges of natural products inspired discoveries at the interface of chemistry, biology, catalysis and mechanism. These discoveries led to new methods and mechanistic models that have become widely adapted. He will also discuss the navigation of chemical space to discover “supernatural products” – that is, natural products with gain-of-function mutations.

In addition, he will examine the challenges faced by U.S. faculty in the 21st century. The rise of dual-career families, delocalization/mobility and housing costs are altering the traditional models of an academic career. This talk will chart the strategic choices, sacrifices, mistakes and rare successes in an ongoing path through academia.