Honey Shah

Honey Shah

Organic chemistry
Researcher, The Wistar Institute


Master of Chemical Sciences, University of Pennsylvania ’23
Master of Science in Chemistry, Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology ’16

Before coming to Penn, Honey Shah (Master of Chemical Sciences ’23) had a master’s degree and professional experience in the chemical industry. “I was very content with my life in India,” she recalls, “but after working a few years in industry, there came a point where I felt I needed to learn more in my subject.” She enrolled in the Master of Chemical Sciences at Penn to unlock a new career path. “I would like to work in drug discovery in pharmaceuticals,” she explains. “But I am open to any chemical industry. I want to have experience working with Industry in the US because the research is cutting edge and the work culture is different.”

At Penn, Honey focused on organic chemistry but valued the flexibility of developing a curriculum to suit her own interests. “I like that we have a variety of classes to choose from. The professors are happy to help,” she says. Honey was also able to connect with the only chemistry laboratory at the Wistar Institute, a recognized national cancer research center where most of the labs are biology-based. The chemistry lab offers novel approaches to the process of target identification and drug development. “They are working on different approaches to cancer and some state-of-the-art drug categories that are prevalent in the pharmaceutical drug discovery business currently,” she explains. This work forms the basis of her capstone project: “I have a target identified based on which I have to design and synthesize small organic molecules that could work as drugs. It’s a learning process,” she says. “I feel very privileged to be part of this chemical community.”

Although lab research and degree requirements take a lot of time, Honey appreciates life on campus: numerous libraries and places to study for a change of scenery, recreational activities in Houston Hall, and cultural associations that celebrate holidays such as the big Holi party on College Green. “There were dance performances and colors… it was so much like how we celebrate Holi back in India,” she recalls. “Penn is a very inclusive community. You have a lot of resources, and student associations from different countries.” Having opportunities to relax and have fun is important to stay balanced, says Honey. “Grad school can be really stressful. I’m glad that Penn recognizes how important mental health is,” she reflects. “And having friends is a big, big help in grad school—especially for international students. Your friends are your family here and I’m grateful for the few special ones I have.”

In addition to moral support, however, financial support can be crucial for graduate students. Honey found that financial aid and scholarship opportunities for international students are scarce. One exception is the Axalta Bright Futures scholarship, a merit-based as well as need-based scholarship designed to make STEM education accessible to emerging scientists without a work requirement or other obligations. “It’s completely to support students. There are no hidden caveats,” says Honey. “The scholarship helped support me and relieved some financial burden. It also gives me a sense of achievement to have an industry scholarship. It’s something I can carry forever—that was a good feeling.”

“After studying here, I am very happy and grateful to be a part of this community,” Honey concludes. “I have learned so much and grown so much academically. It's been a once in a lifetime experience.”

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