BSC Celebrates 2021 Doctoral Thesis Awardee, Dr. Ernest Awoonor-Williams

Dr. Ernest Awoonor-Williams completed his PhD in theoretical & computational chemistry at Memorial University under the supervision of Prof. Chris Rowley. When asked to describe the focus of his research Ernest explains, “I employ advanced computational methods to study the biological mechanisms driving disease processes in enzyme targets.” He chose this specialization as he wanted to take on the challenge of shifting from experimental chemical physics, which he studied in his B. Sc, to computational chemistry which also interested him. Ernest is now completing a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Novartis Institute for BioMedical Research where he is “exploring in silico approaches towards drug discovery.”

Ernest was the recipient of the 2021 Doctoral Thesis award for his thesis titled “Modelling Covalent Modification of Cysteine Residues in Proteins.” Both his supervisor and external examiner, Prof. James Gauld, offer high praise for Ernest’s many accomplishments during his PhD. Prof. Rowley illustrates the exceptional quality of Ernest’s thesis by pointing to the many high impact papers Ernest first-authored, which have become “authoritative references” and are “changing how researchers model [covalent modification of cysteine residues].” Prof. Gauld seconds this opinion describing the results of Ernest’s thesis to be “highly significant and impactful to its field specifically and broader areas of biophysics as well.”

Ernest’s challenges as a PhD student involved occasional feelings of isolation and struggles with maintaining a good work-life balance. Cultivating healthy habits such as regular exercise, unwinding on weekends, and talking to people have helped him to get through. When asked what advice he would provide to future trainees, he stated that he would encourage them to follow their passion and not be afraid of failure or rejection. He added: “[future trainees should] be curious and open-minded, and most of all, have fun!”

Receiving this award allowed Ernest to recognize the value of his work.

“It meant a lot to me knowing that my thesis examiners and the award evaluation committee considered my work impactful”, he said. Ernest mentioned that he felt deeply humbled and honoured to have received the inaugural Biophysical Society of Canada Doctoral Thesis Award.