Getting Her Ideas Out of the Lab: Roxana Piotrowska, Class of 2021, on Her New Role at Estée Lauder and What Led to It

Roxana Piotrowska (Photo courtesy of Piotrowska)

By Lida Tunesi

As Roxana Piotrowska (Ph.D. ’21, Chemistry) can tell you, water-responsive nanomaterials and the cosmetics industry might have more in common than you would think. Having completed her dissertation research with Professors Rein Ulijn (GC/Hunter, Chemistry) and Xi Chen (GC/City College; Chemistry/Chemical Engineering) at the Advanced Science Research Center at The Graduate Center (CUNY ASRC), Piotrowska recently began a new job with makeup, skin care, and fragrance company Estée Lauder.

“During my Ph.D. I worked with peptides, which are short chains of amino acids and building blocks of proteins,” Piotrowska said. “I used peptides to develop and study water-responsive materials that can one day hopefully help harness yet untapped evaporation energy.” In her new position, she has also been working with peptides, but to create new components for cosmetics. Peptides can help support collagen production and are used in a variety of skin-care products. 

“Roxana's dissertation project is a great example of a cross-disciplinary project,” Ulijn said, “bringing together aspects of chemistry, materials science, biology, and engineering. She did a great job learning a range of different techniques and her hard work was ultimately rewarded with a beautiful paper that appeared as the cover article in Nature Materials.” 

Piotrowska explained her dissertation and its relevance at The Graduate Center’s 2021 Dissertation Showcase

For other students looking to land an industry job after graduating from academia, Piotrowska recommends pursuing internships while still in school.

“Prior experience helps tremendously with getting job interviews,” she said. “I know it is extremely difficult to take classes, work on your project, and have a part-time internship on top of that. But it pays off, I promise.”

Piotrowska built up her industry experience while getting her Ph.D. She worked with startups through a collaboration between the CUNY ASRC and Futureworks NYC, and at tech accelerator VentureOut. Most recently, she worked with life science investing group Mid-Atlantic Bio Angels.

“I have always been interested in the intersection of science, business, and finance,” Piotrowska said. “Getting an idea out of the lab, spinning off a company, and eventually commercializing it was always fascinating to me. When working at startups you wear a lot of hats and you learn a ton every day.”

Born and raised in Poland, Piotrowska moved to Denmark for her undergraduate degree. Students in her program were required to conduct research at a different university, and she decided to reach out to Ulijn at the CUNY ASRC. Ulijn was able to create an intern position that provided Piotrowska’s entry point to CUNY. 

“I absolutely loved that experience,” she said. “Back then I never even thought of getting a Ph.D., but Professor Ulijn and his team completely changed my mind.”

The cross-Atlantic move was not easy, Piotrowska said. Her family has been supportive, though, and her advisers and collaborators have made it worthwhile.

“I cannot think of a better place for graduate students,” Piotrowska said. “The CUNY ASRC is everything a young scientist can dream of — advanced instruments, a diverse, collaborative, and interdisciplinary culture, friendly staff, cutting-edge research, and most importantly, extremely nice, scientifically passionate co-workers.”

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing.

Submitted on: MAY 21, 2021

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