Alumni News – Dr. Melissa Ramirez

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Dr. Melissa Ramirez (Ph.D. ’21 organic chemistry, Garg and Houk groups), currently a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), has been named a 2023 CAS Future Leader and also awarded an NIH K99/R00 MOSAIC award.

Ramirez’s two recent awards demonstrate her leadership in science, excellence in research, and commitment to diversity. The CAS Future Leaders program recognizes outstanding early-career scientists and provides opportunities for them to network, present their research, and partake in leadership training. Ramirez was one of 35 scientists awarded this year out of hundreds of applications (View the 2023 CAS Future Leaders profiles).

The NIH Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers (MOSAIC) program supports early-career scientists from diverse backgrounds as they transition from postdoctoral studies to independent academic careers. The award provides support in two phases, spanning both mentored research and independent research as tenure-track faculty, and aims to increase diversity amongst researchers in the biomedical field.

About Dr. Melissa Ramirez

Dr. Melissa Ramirez earned her B.A. in chemistry in 2016 from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was a Gates Millennium Scholar and conducted undergraduate research with Professor Gary Molander.

At UCLA, she joined the laboratories of Professor Ken Houk and Professor Neil Garg at UCLA, training as both a computational and synthetic organic chemist. Ramirez earned a number of accolades during her graduate studies, including the NIH F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein Fellowship and the Eugene V. Cota-Robles Fellowship. While at UCLA, she led and contributed to a variety of research projects. In particular, her synthetic and computational studies culminated in a deeper understanding of pericyclic reactions of strained intermediates, which continue to be an active area of research at UCLA.

After earning her Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 2021, Ramirez began her postdoctoral studies at Caltech under the mentorship of Professor Brian Stoltz. Her postdoctoral achievements have been recognized through the NSF MPS-Ascend Fellowship and the Caltech Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship, among others. In the Stoltz lab, Ramirez conducts experimental and computational studies of catalytic enantioselective quaternary center formation.

Ramirez’s passions extend beyond chemical research; her commitment to science outreach and fostering diversity in STEM have spanned her entire academic career. At UCLA and Caltech, Ramirez has served as a board member for organizations that promote diversity, working to create inclusive spaces in STEM and support scientists from underrepresented minorities. In addition, she has served as a mentor in several capacities, such as guiding undergraduate students as they conduct research.

After her postdoctoral studies, Ramirez plans to begin her independent academic career at an R1 institution. Her research will continue to combine computational and experimental studies to provide valuable insight into chemical processes. As a CAS Future Leader and NIH MOSAIC awardee, Ramirez looks to continue nurturing diversity in chemistry.

“I am thrilled to have been selected for the CAS Future Leaders and NIH K99/R00 MOSAIC Awards because these programs are providing me with the resources critical to my development as a scientist, leader, and mentor,” Ramirez said. “Both align with my commitment to enhancing diversity in STEM and higher education as a first-generation Latina in science. They will shape how I lead my own independent research group, how I train the next generation of scientists, and how I contribute to local and global communities as I move forward in my career.” 

Article by Laura Wonilowicz (Garg group), UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. Wonilowicz is a fourth-year chemistry graduate student and a science writer.