PhD Graduate Awards

Recognizing, rewarding and nurturing talent

Excellence in innovative PhD research

We team up with leading scientific associations in their respective fields for this award:

  • The American Chemical Society Division of Polymer Chemistry (ACS Poly) in the case of our materials science award.
  • The America Society of Animal Science (ASAS) in respect of our animal nutrition science award.
  • The Federation of European Nutrition Sciences (FENS) in the case of our human nutrition award.

The award not only gives PhD graduates a financial reward for their achievements, but also a platform to make a name for themselves in their chosen field. They also help participants make the all-important connection between scientific achievement and commercial and industrial success.

The Awards

Innovative PhD research in polymer technology

Awarded annually and open to PhD students and those who had recently obtained their PhD in the Americas, this award was about recognizing and rewarding excellence in innovative PhD research in the field of polymer sciences. The 2021 award was presented to the winner at the American Chemical Society (ACS) national meeting, from 22-26 August 2021, in San Francisco, California, USA.

Winner 2021

The winner of the 2021 award was Andrea Westlie from Colorado State University (CO, USA). Andrea was recognized for her outstanding work on biodegradability and recyclability of bio-based materials. Read Andrea’s story about how her interest in science started and what the next steps in her career will be.

2021 theme: polymers for a sustainable future 

The theme for the 2021 award was ‘’polymers for a sustainable future’’. Nominees were judged based on both the connection to the theme and the quality of their scientific research.

The prize

The award carried a cash prize of €5,500. The runners-up each received €1,500.

Eligibility criteria

  • Nominations were open to current PhD students and those who had recently obtained their PhD at a university in the Americas.
  • Candidates could not have defended their PhD thesis before 1 January 2020.
  • The nominated work had to involve innovative research (fundamental or applied) in the area of Polymers for a Sustainable Future, as described above.

Selection and judging

From the total number of nominations received, four candidates were selected for the final judging round that took place during the American Chemical Society (ACS) national meeting, from 22-26 August 2021, in San Francisco, California, USA. These four candidates were invited to present their research results in a short lecture during a special DSM - ACS POLY Symposium. A judging committee comprising members from DSM and ACS POLY selected and announced the winner.

Nomination

Candidates had to be nominated by their PhD supervisors (one nominee per supervisor) and needed to be accompanied by the following documents:

  • A graphical abstract of the candidate's lecture topic.
  • A list of all accepted publications, including DOI.
  • Copies of key publications (max. three) in full length (not including supplementary files).
  • The candidate’s complete curriculum vitae, including (expected) date of PhD defense.
  • A personal letter of recommendation prepared by the PhD supervisor.

Innovative PhD research in animal sciences

Awarded annually and open to PhD students and those who had recently obtained their PhD in China, this award was about recognizing and rewarding excellence in innovative PhD research in the field of animal nutrition sciences. The 2020 award was presented to the winner at the annual meeting of the Chinese Association of Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine (CAASVM), in Chengdu, China in November.

Winner 2020

The winner of the 2020 award was Dr. Zhang Xin from China Agricultural University. Dr. Zhang Xin was recognized for his exceptional research on pork quality formation mechanisms and nutritional regulation. Read Dr. Zhang Xin’s story about how his interest in science started and what the next steps in his career will be.

2020 theme: improving pork quality through nutrition

The theme for the 2020 award was ‘’improving pork quality through nutrition’’. Nominees were judged based on both the connection to the theme and the quality of their scientific research.

The prize

The award carried a cash prize of €2,000. The runners-up each received €1,000.

Eligibility criteria

  • Nominations were open to current PhD students and those who had recently obtained their PhD at a university in China.
  • Candidates could not have defended their PhD thesis before 1 January 2020.
  • The nominated work had to involve innovative research (fundamental or applied) in the area of Animal Nutrition contributing to improving pork quality.

Selection & judging

From the total number of nominations received, four candidates were selected for the final judging round that took place during the Chinese Association of Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine (CAASVM), in Chengdu. These four candidates were invited to present their research results in a short lecture during a special DSM/CAASVM Symposium. A judging committee comprising members from DSM and CAAVSM selected and announced the winner.

Nomination

  • Candidates had to be nominated by their PhD supervisor (one nominee per supervisor).
  • Nominations had to be accompanied by the following documents, combined into a single PDF submission:
    • An abstract (according to ASAS guidelines) of the candidate’s lecture topic.
    • A list of all accepted publications, including DOI.
    • Copies of key publications (max. three) in full length (not including supplementary files).
    • The candidate’s complete curriculum vitae, including (expected) date of PhD defense.
    • A personal letter of recommendation prepared by the PhD supervisor.

Innovative PhD research in human sciences

Awarded annually and open to PhD students and those who had recently obtained their PhD at a university in Europe, this award was about recognizing and rewarding excellence in innovative PhD research in Human Nutrition. The 2019 award was presented to the winner at the European Nutrition Conference held by the Federation of European Nutrition Societies (FENS) in October 2019 in Dublin, Ireland.

Winner 2019

The winner of the 2019 award was Aoife Caffrey, from Ulster University. Aoife was recognized for her work on maternal folate nutrition and offspring brain health. Read Aoife's story about how her interest in science started and what the next steps in her career will be.

2019 theme: Personalized nutrition and novel technologies for health in the modern world

The theme for the 2019 award was ‘’personalized nutrition and novel technologies for health in the modern world’’. Nominees were judged based on both the connection to the theme and the quality of their scientific research.

The prize

The award carried a cash prize of €5,000. The three runners-up each received €1,000. On top of their prize, all four finalists received €1,000 to cover associated travel and conference registration costs.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Nominations were open to current PhD students and those who had recently obtained their PhD at a university in Europe.
  • Candidates could not have defended their PhD thesis before 1 January 2019.
  • The nominated work had to involve innovative research (fundamental or applied) in the area of personalized nutrition and novel technologies for health in the modern world.

Selection and Judging

From the total number of nominations received, four candidates were selected as finalist. These four finalists were invited to present their research results in a short lecture during a special DSM-FENS Symposium on 17 October at the European Nutrition Conference in Dublin. The judging committee comprised members from both DSM and FENS. 

Nomination

  • Candidates had to be nominated by their PhD supervisors (one nominee per supervisor). 
  • Nominations had to be accompanied by the following documents, combined into a single PDF submission:
    • An abstract of the candidate’s lecture topic.
    • A list of all accepted publications, including DOI.
    • Copies of key publications (max. three) in full length (not including supplementary files).
    • The candidate’s complete curriculum vitae, including (expected) date of PhD defense.
    • A personal letter of recommendation prepared by the PhD supervisor.

Recent PhD winners

Over the years our past winners span a huge range of topics and nationalities. Since winning, their careers have moved in equally diverse directions - from the heights of academia to major commercial success. Here's a few interviews with recent winners and their hopes, dreams…and a little advice along the way.

Andrea Westlie

On 24 August, Dr. Andrea Westlie, from the University of Colorado received the 2021 Bright Science Award in Materials Sciences. Andrea was recognized for her outstanding work in polymer science, which is contributing to the development of truly recyclable polymers and tackling the issue of plastic pollution. 

When and how did your interest in science start?

“I was always a curious kid that loved asking a million questions but also loved regurgitating the facts that I learned to anyone who would listen. I’m sure this characteristic led me to be a relentless student taking lots of science classes in school.

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"I think my introductory college-level Chemistry class in high school was really what ignited my love of science. I was being challenged but my teacher was so encouraging, and it was my first taste into digging deep into the ‘why’ questions that make science so fun. This class was really the start of my never-ending quest to reach that ‘lightbulb’ moment in everything I learn.”

Who is your biggest inspiration in the scientific world?

“It’s tough to narrow down as there are so many folks that have truly inspired me. For starters – my undergraduate chemistry professors; especially Prof. Kristine Wammer & Prof. J. T. Ippoliti showed me the beauty and joys of research and encouraged me to pursue a PhD. My advisor Prof. Eugene Chen fosters my passions and gives me freedom to work on amazing chemistry and develop truly sustainable polymers. Prof. Geoff Coates and Prof. Marc Hillmyer are prolific giants in my field who consistently push the boundaries of sustainable polymers and whose research I love to read and motivates me to keep diving deeper into my research and that there is always so much more to learn.”

Why did you decide to pursue a PhD in the field of polymer sciences?

“As a curious undergraduate, I was considering many different avenues for my post-graduate career, but an interesting flyer drove me to attend a research seminar at the University of Minnesota in 2016. ‘If your bathroom was flooding, would you first grab towels to wipe up the water or turn off the faucet?’ Professor Richard Thompson spoke on whether the solution to plastic accumulating in the ocean starts with removing plastic or stopping plastic from entering in the first place. This seminar on ocean plastic sparked my passion for addressing this global issue by developing truly recyclable polymers in my doctoral studies. The combination of my love for organic synthesis and my passion for sustainability led me to Professor Eugene Chen’s research laboratory in sustainable polymers at CSU.”

Which societal challenges can we solve with your research?

“Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are microbially produced polyesters that have attracted increasing attention due to their unique biodegradability in ambient environments. PHAs are an attractive biorenewable and biodegradable alternative to unsustainable, non-degradable petroleum-based plastics. Currently, PHAs are limited in cost, scalability, and inferior thermal and mechanical properties compared to commodity plastics. My research in expanding and developing the catalyzed chemical synthesis of PHAs from 8-membered cyclic diolides has been shown to produce PHAs with enhanced thermal and mechanical properties that can compete with existing nondegradable, commodity plastics. We are showing that our chemical synthesis allows for precisely controlled microstructure, architecture, and topology to push the boundaries of PHA materials currently inaccessible by biosynthetic methods. My research is one piece of the large puzzle in how we can combat the global crisis of plastic accumulation.”

What will be the next steps in your career?

“I work extensively in sustainability and solving the global plastic crisis. I’d like to continue to develop new polymerization methodologies and design sustainable polymers that are industrially relevant. I’m driven to pursue a career in industry, where I can continue my dream of creating valuable and renewable materials that positively impact society and expand the world’s knowledge. I hope my future career will be dedicated to developing chemically recyclable and biodegradable polymers with practically useful and tunable properties towards a sustainable future.”

Dr. Zhang Xin

On 5 November 2020, Xin Zhang, from the College of Animal Science and Technology at China Agricultural University, received the 2020 DSM Bright Science Award in Animal Science. Xin was recognized for his research on the factors behind pork quality and strategies to improve it.

When and how did your interest in science start?

When I was very young, my mother and I used to mow the grass and feed the rabbits together. Since then, I have been in love with small animals.

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When I had learned to read, I started to read some popular science books about biological evolution. I was deeply attracted by the unsolved mysteries in this area, and was determined to become someone who would solve those problems.”

Who is your biggest inspiration in the scientific world?

Prof. Jingdong Yin always inspires me to keep moving forward. Prof. Yin is my doctoral supervisor and an expert in animal nutrition and meat quality. He gives me a deep understanding of the problems in the field of meat quality research, suggests the direction to follow, and supports me in improving and expanding my ideas. When I encounter difficulties, he always makes constructive suggestions for me and encourages me not to give up.

Why did you decide to do a PhD in the field of animal nutrition sciences?

Animal nutrition sciences are closely related to our quality of life and social development. Producing high-quality livestock and poultry meat is one of the ultimate goals of animal husbandry. Although there are high levels of pork production at the moment, the meat quality is far below consumer expectations.

For this reason, I would like to gain more professional knowledge at a doctoral level. My aim is to have a deeper understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying meat quality formation, to explore nutritional strategies to improve pork quality, and to contribute to the high-quality development of animal husbandry.

Which societal challenges can we solve with your research?

The production of high-quality meat is one of the ultimate goals of livestock production. Since 2015, meat production in China reached a record 86.25 million tons, and then entered a plateau period, basically maintaining around 85 million tons. Pork production accounted for more than 60% of this total livestock and poultry meat production. Per-capita meat consumption has reached about 60 kg, which far exceeds the daily intake of livestock and poultry meat (50-75 g) recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Chinese Residents (2019 edition).

In this way, meat production in China has met the needs of consumers. But for a long time, due to the pork industry’s excessive pursuit of growth rates, feed conversion efficiency, and lean meat percentages, the water holding capacity and intramuscular fat content of pork have been reduced, and its flavor has deteriorated. In other words, the quality of the pork is far from consumers’ expectations.

To provide a theoretical basis and nutritional strategies for improving pork quality, we researched the regulation of myogenesis and adipogenesis, and glucose and lipid metabolism, in the skeletal muscle of pigs.”

What does it mean for you to win this award?

I am honored to receive this award and it will encourage me to move forward confidently with my research. I’d like to thank DSM for supporting scholars majoring in animal nutrition sciences. At the same time, I am very grateful to my supervisor and colleagues for their support. I couldn’t have won the award without it!”

What will be the next steps in your career?

My future goal is to become a researcher at a major research university and continue to research swine nutrition and meat quality. There are still many unsolved problems in improving pork quality – I would like to contribute my skills to solving these issues and enabling high-quality pork production.”

Dr. Aoife Caffrey

On Thursday 17 October, Aoife Caffrey, from Ulster University, received the DSM Science & Technology Award 2019 during the Federation of European Nutrition Societies (FENS) conference held in Dublin, Ireland. Aoife was recognised for the exceptional contribution of her PhD research which used a novel brain imaging technology and epigenetic techniques to explore potential biological mechanisms explaining the effects of maternal folate nutrition on their offspring's brain.

When and how did your interest in science start?

My interest in science started at a young age. I grew up (in London, Taipei and Dublin) in a family where ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics’ was at the forefront of my upbringing.

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"I was lucky to have parents that were very supportive and encouraging of my growing scientific interests.

"Another positive influence on my interest in nutrition science was a family friend, Ursula O’Dwyer, a registered dietitian, who worked as a Health Promotion Policy Advisor for the Department of Health in Ireland. Her position meant that she worked with world leaders in public health and acknowledged excellent scientific research with impacts on policy, which interested me greatly." 

Who is your biggest inspiration in the scientific world?

Undoubtably, my PhD supervisors Prof Kristina Pentieva and Prof Helene McNulty! They were, and continue to be, inspirational mentors to me as an early career researcher, and their support and guidance has been endless. As world-leading scientists, they have shown me the importance of conducting excellent research and ensuring that the results are disseminated for a real-world impact. I hope to one day be able to match their unwavering enthusiasm for, and achievements in, nutrition science.

Beyond my PhD supervisors, Prof Lucilla Poston CBE, King’s College London and Prof Keith Godfrey, University of Southampton, are two of my great scientific inspirations for their work in the area of maternal diet and body composition on offspring development and health throughout life, ‘Developmental Origins of Health and Disease’. Prof Poston was in fact the external examiner for my PhD viva and it was a real privilege to have the opportunity to discuss my research in depth with her earlier this year at the time of my oral examination for the award of PhD.”

Why did you decide to pursue a PhD in the field of maternal nutrition and offspring health?

“It was during my Master’s programme at Ulster University that I decided I wanted a career in science and research. Subsequently, I was fortunate to join the Folate Group under Prof Kristina Pentieva and Prof Helene McNulty who introduced me to the world of folic acid and the related B-vitamins. I worked on the FASSTT Offspring study investigating the effects of maternal folate nutrition and cognitive performance in the child at 3 and 7 years. My deep-rooted fascination in this area pushed me to investigate whether the effects on brain health in the child would persist beyond 7 years and to explore the potential biological mechanisms underpinning these effects, which formed the basis of my PhD research.”

Which societal challenges can we address with your research?

The research completed during my PhD project demonstrates potential health benefits of continuing folic acid (400 µg/d) supplementation during pregnancy, beyond the early period currently recommended to protect against neural tube defects, in terms of brain health of the offspring at 11 years. The impact of this work for society will primarily be in contributing scientific evidence to support future policy and practice in relation to folic acid recommendations for women during pregnancy. Such policy would in turn benefit pregnant mothers and their children.

The results of this research show that there are benefits for the child of continuing maternal use of folic acid throughout pregnancy, whereas current recommendations in most countries worldwide advise mothers to take folic acid supplements from before conceiving until the end of the 12th gestational week only.

What does it mean for you to win this award?

I was honoured to have been nominated by my PhD supervisors, and I am delighted to have won such a prestigious award. I am also hugely grateful to DSM to be given this wonderful opportunity to highlight our ‘maternal folate nutrition and offspring health’ research on such a global platform as the FENS conference. It was an absolute privilege for me.”

What will be the next steps in your career?

I am currently working as a Postdoctoral Researcher on the EpiBrain project at NICHE, Ulster University, building on work that was completed during my PhD studies. The EpiBrain project, ‘Epigenetic effects of B-vitamins on brain health throughout life: scientific substantiation and translation of evidence for health improvement strategies’ was awarded under the JPI HDHL scheme and funded by the BBSRC and MRC UK Research Councils. It is an international multidisciplinary project that brings together researchers in Nutrition and Genetics at Ulster University, UK; University of British Columbia, Canada; and Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Spain.

In the future, I hope to grow my career as an independent researcher and become an academic, working in collaboration with researchers from both industry and academia. I also aspire to follow the career paths of my supervisors and for my research to have impact.”

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  • Bright Science Awards

    DSM's Bright Science Awards are open to PhD graduates; seasoned scientists worldwide, in everything from human & animal nutrition to materials science.

  • Experienced Scientist Awards

    The Experienced Scientist Award is part of DSM’s Bright Science Awards program and recognizes seasoned scientists for their pioneering research in nutrition and materials sciences.