March 23, 2021
Robert Hohlman
Congratulations to Robert Hohlman, who has been awarded the prestigious 2021 Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship.

Robert (Robbie) Hohlman, a PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary Program in Medicinal Chemistry, has been awarded the 2021 Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship.

The Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship supports exceptional doctoral candidates who are actively working on their dissertation research and writing. The competitive fellowship acknowledges students who have taken a risk and are working on particularly creative or ambitious dissertations, and provides the winner with a stipend of $34,000, candidacy tuition and required fees for twelve months.

Robbie earned a BS in biochemistry from Calvin University (formally Calvin College). He joined the Medicinal Chemistry PhD program at the University of Michigan in the fall of 2017.

Robbie’s dissertation, Utilizing Cascade Biocatalysis for the Chemoenzymatic Synthesis of Unnatural Hapalindole-Type Metabolites, builds on research he started early in his time at the College.

“I am using newly discovered enzymes from cyanobacteria to synthesize natural product derivatives for further medicinal testing,” explains Robbie. “I am also exploring the biosynthetic pathway to characterize other enzymes responsible for further modifications to the same class of natural products.”

“I came from a synthetic medicinal chemistry lab in undergrad and believed that was the route I wanted to stay, but I was open to change,” recalls Robbie. “When I was exploring graduate programs, I was interested in lot of research in the MedChem department.”

“During my rotation in Prof. David Sherman’s laboratory, I worked with a P450 enzyme that catalyzed unique carbon-carbon and carbon-nitrogen bounds in a class of natural products,” Robbie says. “I understood how challenging some of these reactions can be and I was fascinated that an enzyme could do it better and more efficiently. This field of using enzymes to perform complex organic chemistry reactions (biocatalysis) really caught my interest and I wanted to explore it further.”

“While I did not end up staying on the P450 project, our lab had characterized a class of cyclase and prenyltransferase enzymes from cyanobacteria that catalyze a complex three-step reaction in another class of natural products and I got involved with that project.”

“Robbie joined my group three years ago following a very successful rotation,” says David Sherman, PhD, Hans W. Vahlteich Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, College of Pharmacy. “His accomplishments to date represent a deep intellectual curiosity and capability for scholarship.”

“Robbie is a truly remarkable young scientist with a driven, ‘get it done’ attitude and his productivity as a PhD student at U-M is exceptional,” continues Prof. Sherman. “The level of creativity, experimental rigor, and careful consideration of his work is most impressive. Based on my 30 years in academia, it is clear that Robbie ranks firmly among the top tier of students, and has an incredible future ahead as a medicinal chemist and scientific leader.”

Robbie’s research has previously been recognized at the University and national level. He won the American Chemical Society (ACS) Division of Medicinal Chemistry Pre-doctoral Fellowship in 2020. Robbie was named the 2019 Department of Medicinal Chemistry Graduate Student Instructor of the Year, and took 3rd place for the McGlone Poster Award at the College's annual Research Forum in 2020.

Robbie is active within the College and national professional organizations. He was nominated by his classmates to serve as a graduate student representative within the MedChem department from 2018-2020.  He is a member of the College’s ACS MedChem student group, currently serving the organization as its fundraising chair. Robbie is a member of the National Science Foundation Center for C-H Functionalization (CCHF), serving as the social co-chair of the student leadership council.

After completing his degree, Robbie plans to pursue a research scientist position in the pharmaceutical or biotech industry.