Tsehai Grell smiles at a table bearing flowers.

Graduate Student Spotlight: Tsehai Grell

Categories: Students

Chemistry Graduate Student Tsehai Grell outlines her research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.

Tsehai Grell grew up on a small island in the Caribbean called the Commonwealth of Dominica, which is known for its 365 rivers (one for each day of the year!) and breathtaking blacksand beaches. After five years at MIT, she is still trying to warm up to Boston’s winters. Tsehai is a graduate student in the lab of HHMI Professor and Investigator Catherine L. Drennan and is a NSF Fellow. Her research focuses on the structural elucidation of metalloenzymes, using x-ray crystallography as the key investigative tool. Metalloenzymes catalyze chemically difficult steps in key processes such as photosynthesis, nitrogen fixation and vitamin biosynthesis. The superfamily of metalloenzymes that Tsehai studies utilize an oxygen-sentive metal-cluster and a small biological molecule to initiate radical chemistry, therefore harnessing the reactivity of radical chemistry to carry out challenging chemical reactions involved in natural product biosynthesis, tRNA modifications and cofactor biosynthesis. Although these enzymes contain a core structural fold, a partial barrel for sequestering the radical species, Nature has fine-tuned these enzymes and functionalized them with additions to the core fold, which cater to the diverse substrates and chemistry they bind and perform. Thus each enzyme has its own mechanistic story to tell. Tsehai is working towards and obtaining understanding mechanistic details of the reactions that four of these enzymes catalyze through a series of snapshots of the enzymes in various substrate- and product-bound states.

As the subject of June 2017’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Tsehai shares the topic she could discuss for 40 minutes with no preparation, the adventure she hopes to embark on, the house she’d build with an unlimited budget, her career in an alternate universe, and much more!

1. What random job do you think you’d be really good at?
Advice columnist. I am the worst at taking my own advice though.

2. What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
Cricket (the sport).

3. What superstition do you believe in?
If you see a brown grasshopper in your house you will receive money. If you see a green grasshopper you will loose money

4. What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?
With my nose in a good novel or binge watching any of Shonda Rhimes’ TV shows.

5. What TV channel doesn’t exist but really should?
A TV channel that produces reality shows about graduate students lives might be entertaining, once you fast forward through the experiments that is.

6. What are you most looking forward to in the next 10 years?
The first passenger flight to space! Hopefully it doesn’t get pushed back again.

7. Who has impressed you most with what they’ve accomplished?
Being here at MIT, I have interacted with so many impressive undergraduates, graduates, professors and staff who are accomplishing amazing things and pushing the barriers of their fields- I can’t just choose one person!

8. What would be your Hogwarts patronus?
A Koala.  I am all about naps!

9. Who is the most famous person you have met?
Does meeting  Jesse Williams in my dreams count?

10. Why did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
Because understanding the interplay between chemistry and biology is crucial to teasing out how life process occur on a molecular level.

11. What are your top three favorite movies?
The Lion King, White Chicks, and The little Princess

12. What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
Traveling back in time to visit/explore the ancient civilizations of the world. Wouldn’t mind tagging along with Marco Polo and Ibn Batutta on their journeys.

13. Who is on the guest list for your ideal dinner party?
The Obamas, Taraji Henderson,  Malala Yousafzai, and Edris Elba.

14. Who’s your go to band or artist when you can’t decide on something to listen to?
Bob Marley and the Wailers

15.  If you had unlimited funds to build a house that you would live in for the rest of your life, what would the finished house be like?
It would be old fashioned in its layout, French colonial style with wrap around porches, but with a modern twist in the use of glass and computerization (I’m talking Disney channels’ Smart house).

16. What bends your mind every time you think about it?
Human behavior

17. Who would be the best person you could be stuck in an elevator with?
J.K. Rowling.

18. Who, besides your parents, has had the greatest impact on your life?
My Siblings

19. What hobby would you get into if time and money weren’t an issue?
It’s a toss up between traveling the world and car racing.

20. If you could pick any career other than the one you’ve chosen, what would it be?
A writer. I constantly marvel at their mastery of language which allows you to be transported into the story that they weave.

Many thanks to Tsehai for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!