Biochemistry undergraduate earns prestigious Dean’s Prize

Jon Doenier’s undergraduate career came to a close in May with not just bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and computer science and three years of research experience — but also with a prestigious 2018 Dean’s Prize from the College of Letters and Science. He was one of three students from the college to earn the award.

Photo of Jon Doenier
Jon Doenier in the Kimble Lab. Photo: Robin Davies.

“I was really surprised to be one of the three graduating students to earn the Dean’s Prize,” he says. “I came to UW–Madison to be part of a large research university and got involved in research my sophomore year. I think research is extremely valuable for society in general, as basic research is where a lot of our medicines start off. I also just think it’s fun.”

Doenier was an undergraduate researcher in the lab of biochemistry professor Judith Kimble for three years. Undergraduates in the Department of Biochemistry can earn a degree from either the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences or the College of Letters and Science. The Kimble Lab studies the fundamental mechanisms of animal development, using the microscopic worm C. elegans as a model organism.

“I love the research I do because the work is in the complete biological context of the organism,” he explains. “Professor Kimble and her lab’s members are very nice and I felt supported and had my own project even as an undergrad that was useful to the overall lab.”

Image of a piece of C. elegans labeled to show parts of the worm relevant to Jon's research
Image of a piece of C. elegans, a miroscopic worm the Kimble Lab uses as a model organism to study animal development.

His project was working with a postdoctoral scholar, Scott Aoki, on tethering experiments. In the germ line, stem cells are controlled by many proteins that bind to RNA. The pair worked to use a technique that tethers these proteins to specific RNA molecules that allow them to study how the proteins function.

“I enjoy listening to my students and helping them pursue a project that aligns with their interests,” Kimble says. “Jon is a hard worker and very personable. He’s a nice guy who is also very ambitious and works hard.”

Doenier plans to pursue graduate school to study synthetic biology and protein design. While at UW–Madison he was also part of the Student Society for Stem Cell Research, which helped him connect with more student researchers on campus and do outreach activities about stem cell research.

“Studying biochemistry here was great,” he says. “The major is nice because it is very flexible so you can take courses you are interested in. I took a course on mathematical models of structural biology and it was one of the most interesting classes I took in undergrad.”