CLEMSON – Each year, the Clemson University Postdoctoral Association’s Distinguished Postdoctoral Award is given to one outstanding postdoctoral fellow who embodies excellence in scientific research, leadership, advocacy, outreach and teaching. This year, Vera Bin San Chan of the department of biological sciences claimed the honor.

Vera Bin San Chan at the 2017 Men of Color Summit, where she was a scholarship recipient.

Vera Bin San Chan at the 2017 Men of Color Summit, where she was a scholarship recipient.
Image Credit: Chandan Kumar Choudhury

Chan has been employed as a postdoctoral research associate in professor Andrew Mount’s lab since February 2015. Prior to her position, Chan received her undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral education at the University of Hong Kong. Her undergraduate studies – in both biochemistry and ecology/biodiversity – led her to a Ph.D. in biological sciences, which she completed in 2014. Chan then received nine months of postdoctoral training at the HKU before joining Clemson.

As a well-versed student of biological sciences, Chan has applied her education to study the animals of the ocean and how a changing climate is affecting them, namely in issues known as biofouling and ocean acidification.

“Many people love the ocean for its beautiful coral polyps and sea shells. But to scientists, shell formation represents a massive event that impacts our earth’s geological composition. Animals like oysters and sea snails could be impacted by environmental stressors, which could have a consequence on food security and well-being for humans,” Chan said.

Many of Chan’s research methods place her behind the lens of a microscope, where she visualizes oyster cells and minerals in order to better understand how exactly mollusks develop exterior shells. These biomineralization studies in turn improve scientists’ abilities to manage and protect marine life and resources.

Not only does Chan enjoy her research, but she is well-recognized for her contributions. In just three years at Clemson, she has consolidated one patent, published six papers in peer-reviewed journals, received four research-oriented awards and has disseminated her findings at 12 regional and international conferences, eight of which she was a presenter.

A micrograph taken from Chan's research depicts hatching egg strings of salmon lice.

A micrograph taken from Chan’s research depicts hatching egg strings of salmon lice.
Image Credit: Vera Chan

Although she came to Clemson to pursue forward-thinking research, Chan has also gotten involved in professional development and teaching roles across campus. In Fall 2017, she was awarded $7,000 to craft the Creative Inquiry (CI) project “Ocean Under the Magnifying Glass,” where undergraduate students learn about marine biology and conduct independent research that leads to preliminary data for proposal. The project has been renewed for funding every semester since its establishment. Chan has also facilitated two GRAD 360° workshops, which provide advice to graduate students about improving their academic writing and making peer connections during graduate school. Chan advocates for her fellow postdoctoral associates by leading the Academic Job Interest Group and serving as the postdoc office liaison.

Mount, Chan’s postdoctoral advisor, nominated her for this latest award.

“Dr. Chan’s hard work and dedication to research and science education serves as a model for postdoctoral leadership here at Clemson University,” Mount said. “Her combination of high intelligence, strong work ethic and passion for experimental science has contributed significantly to our lab’s focus on cellular marine biology of larval oyster shell formation. Vera has great enthusiasm for the field that has inspired the undergraduate students who have had the good fortune of being mentored by her in our Creative Inquiry program.”

Dean Cynthia Y. Young of the College of Science shares in Mount’s revere for Chan.

Chan and her CI students collect Eastern oysters at the Baruch Marine Field Lab in Georgetown, S.C.

Chan and her CI students collect eastern oysters at the Baruch Marine Field Laboratory in Georgetown, S.C.
Image Credit: Vera Chan

“We are thrilled for this wonderful recognition as Dr. Chan casts her vision forward toward a promising academic career,” Young said.

After receiving notice of her nomination, Chan said she is proud of all she has achieved at Clemson, yet anxious for the road ahead.

“I thank all the postdoc and graduate students who have provided valuable experience and enabled me to be productive and resourceful,” Chan said. “I also greatly appreciate my advisor, Dr. Andrew Mount, for the opportunity to work in his lab. I am grateful to have his support in connecting with my mentors at Clemson across disciplines, like Assistant Dean Tia Dumas of the Graduate School.”

Clemson football’s attitude of perseverance and dedication is one that helped guide her throughout her postdoctoral studies.

“Clemson is famous for its football team, and I, too, have adopted the growth mindset from them. I have personally learned a lot from the past three years on this training ground, and I am excited for this transitioning point in my career.”

Chan hopes to become a professor in order to continue mentoring students and conducting  research on oyster shell formation.