The CHOPs to succeed: Uriel Garcia

Uriel Garcia

A unique program from the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Department of Chemistry invites prospective students to explore the Ph.D. program at no expense.  The Chemistry Opportunities (CHOPs) program invites approximately 20 highly qualified prospective students to the Department of Chemistry for an all-expense-paid weekend to meet one-on-one with faculty, learn about the program, tour instrumentation facilities, and network with graduate student hosts. Participants also enjoy the UW campus and city of Madison during, arguably the most enjoyable season, fall. CHOPs was first launched in the fall of 2012 with 14 attendees.  Since that first year, 187 students have attended the weekend with nearly 80% being accepted places in the Ph.D. program. 

Applications for this year’s event (September 21-24, 2023) are due by June 2, 2023. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are recent college graduates, or students with junior or senior status who will graduate no later than spring 2024. They must also intend to apply for admission to the UW-Madison graduate program in chemistry for the 2024-25 academic year.

Meet CHOPs participant, Uriel Garcia of the Wickens group. 

What made you want to pursue science as a career?

In high school, I was fortunate enough to take organic chemistry classes where I became enthralled with building molecules. That spark continued at Williams College, and synthetic organic chemistry was my favorite class. Reading natural product synthesis papers, I thought I would end up joining a total synthesis group. However, when reading the articles, I could not help but feel annoyed at how many reactions they would fit over an arrow and how many steps I had no idea how they worked. So, I pushed myself to learn. Now, I work in a methodology lab – creating new ways to synthesize hard to get to products from conventional methods. I aspire to work in the pharmaceutical industry to develop new medications so that I can continue the battle that my mother lost recently.

Who inspires you? Is there a specific mentor or guide who has made things easier?

First and foremost, my mom was and continues to be my biggest inspiration. She moved to the States without speaking much English, and for most of my and my sister’s lives, she raised us single-handedly. Despite how hard graduate school is at times, I look back at what my mom went through and know that I can persevere as well. At Williams College, Prof. Carrasquillo helped me immensely throughout those four years from experiment design to academics to moral support. He pushed me to join an organic chemistry lab and not his because I was more interested in the former research area for graduate school. To this day, we still keep in touch.

What challenges did you face getting into graduate school? How did the weekend CHOPs program help?

As a child of immigrants and a first-generation college student, my family could not offer me advice on how to navigate applying to graduate school. However, I had fantastic mentors in college who advised me well in choosing schools and potential P.I.s to work for. Once decisions came back, they were unbiased and didn’t push me to go to one school over another. Attending CHOPS and getting a glimpse of the department and atmosphere was a major reason why I applied and chose to come here.

Tell us more about your weekend at UW through CHOPs. What did you learn? Were there any surprises?

I attended CHOPS during the 2020 Fall, and because of the pandemic, it was virtual. While I was unable to visit the department and Madison in person, I was able to gather a strong sense of community between the faculty and students.

Tell us about your current research.

Currently, I perform organo-electrochemistry, which uses thianthrene to convert alkenes to unconventional dielectrophiles. I am curious to see what nucleophiles can be used to displace both thianthrenium units and difunctionalize the original alkene.

What grad courses do you like most?

Of all the courses I have taken thus far, I enjoyed Zach Wickens’ course on organic mechanisms the most. The course covered experiment designs, reaction coordinate diagrams, kinetic studies, and arrow pushing, among other things.

When you complete grad school, what do you envision your career path to look like? What experiences have prepared you for that path? 

I hope to work in industry for a bit, particularly in drug design and synthesis. Afterwards, I want to work as a high school chemistry teacher, and possibly even develop an organic chemistry course to aid students so the first time they see the material will not be in college.

When you’re not studying or doing research, what do you like to do?

I am part of one of the department’s soccer teams: The Bananas. I also enjoy going on runs and am hopeful to do the Madison half-marathon in November. To relax, I like hanging out with friends and playing video games or trivia. I also like coin collecting.

If you or someone you know is interested in applying to this year’s CHOPs weekend to explore the chemistry Ph.D. program at UW–Madison, contact Desiree Bates at or visit