University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate Dr. Caitlin Randolph is the winner of one of academia’s most prestigious and highly competitive fellowships for researchers within chemical sciences and instrumentation, and she attributes the win to UTC.
In 2016, Randolph graduated from UTC with degrees in biochemistry and applied mathematics. Four years later, she completed a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. In 2022, as a Purdue-based researcher, she won the Arnold O. Beckman Postdoctoral Fellowship in Chemical Instrumentation.
As a member of the 2022 class of Beckman fellows, Randolph is among 14 exceptional researchers across the country who are receiving more than $4.3 million in funding over three years.
And for her, it all goes back to her time at UTC.
“UTC provided a rich learning environment for me. I had direct interaction with all my professors, allowing me to learn from them firsthand, creating more of a mentor/mentee relationship as opposed to a teacher/student one,” she said.
Randolph was awarded the Beckman fellowship for her research on new analytical tools to enhance the understanding of fatty compounds known as lipids in neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease.
Among the various functions of lipids in the body are moving and storing energy, absorbing vitamins and making hormones.
When Randolph visited UTC in May 2023 to deliver the keynote presentation for the Department of Chemistry and Physics’ annual summer Undergraduate Research Program, she discussed her continuing research into tools to better understand lipids.
Together with her Purdue colleagues, Randolph is working to further develop these tools for use in analysis of single cells. Doing so would enhance understanding of the role of lipids in biological processes while also answering fundamental questions of lipid diversity within individual human cells.
As a UTC student, Randolph worked on research with UC Foundation Professor of Chemistry Steven Symes. Their collaborations began when she was a freshman and continued until she graduated.
“My time with Dr. Symes was integral to my development as a scientist—and a person. He patiently taught me the ‘ins and outs’ of proper lab procedures; how to critically think through research problems and execute research projects,” Randolph said. “He instilled a passion for academic research in me, fostering a love for exploring the unknown.
“He was instrumental in building my self-confidence while also giving me the proper space to fail—something that is often overlooked in scientific training. He taught me to not fear failure, but to even embrace it, as much learning can happen from what we perceive as failure.”
Symes said he feels “fortunate to have worked with such a bright and dedicated individual.”
“She worked on a variety of projects in my lab,” he said. “Caitlin mastered complex analytical techniques such as liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and scanning electron microscopy. She gave several presentations at regional and national conferences that were always well-received and generated much interest.”