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Get to Know CBE PhD Graduates: Jonathan Coote

This is one in a series of Q&As with recent graduates of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) PhD program. The graduates discuss where they are now, how the CBE program helped them get there, and their future goals.

Jonathan CooteJonathan Coote graduated from the CBE PhD program in December 2022. He is a current postdoctoral associate in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Minnesota.

How did you find out about the CBE PhD program?
“A professor at my undergraduate institution, Tulane University, recommended the program to me.”

Why did you choose UT’s PhD program?
“When I visited the campus, I was impressed by the faculty, students, and facilities. The proximity to Oak Ridge National Lab also seemed like a valuable resource and ultimately turned out to be instrumental in completing my PhD.”

What were the most valuable things you took away from the PhD program?
“The expertise I gained through my advisors in polymer physics and chemistry is the obvious answer and the one most immediately impactful on my current career. However, I’d argue that the most valuable thing I learned from the CBE PhD program is how to tackle problems that at first seem insurmountable. The PhD program was a daunting task to take on, but I learned to break projects into manageable pieces, plan progress for the long term, and adapt that plan when circumstances or data demanded. This is a skill that has translated into many aspects of my life, not just science.”

Was there someone who significantly helped you along your path at UT?
“My advisor, Professor Gila Stein, was instrumental in my success at UT. From her, I learned how to be a scientist and that it’s about the best job I could imagine. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the other graduate students in my cohort. Ours was a close knit and supportive group which made the entire journey easier.”

What advice would you give to those considering UT’s PhD program?
“Knoxville is a great place to be a grad student. The city strikes a balance between proximity to nature, urban amenities, and affordability that is difficult to find elsewhere.”

How did UT help you reach your current position?
“In the CBE PhD program, I learned to work independently, perform quality research, and communicate science effectively—all of which are skills central to my current position and without which, I could not possibly succeed.”

What are your future goals in your profession?
“I hope to eventually start an independent research career as a professor at an R1 university [doctoral universities with very high research activity], working on the problems of plastic pollution and recycling while maintaining a firm focus on fundamental science.”


Lilly Tran (