Aaron Ledvina

Technical Lead, Covance Labs – Madison, WI


New Berlin, WI

Undergraduate Institution

Carthage College

Ph.D. Studies


Title of Ph.D. Dissertation

The development and implementation of novel peptide fragmentation methods for proteomics.

What parts of the UW Chemistry program have helped you the most in your current work?

Looking at the way the UW Chemistry curriculum was structured, there wasn’t a huge emphasis on testing and qualifying exams; I viewed these tests as sort of a relic of undergrad training and a pervious era of graduate studies. Instead the emphasis was on project work, working within a team, and conceptually understanding at a high level one’s chosen field. In a word the emphasis was on becoming a professional scientist. This is what I wanted to become as a graduate student and what I do now as a Method Development Technical Lead for the bioanalytical department for Covance Labs.

In grad school there’s a general emphasis on process, but one thing that’s unique about the Coon group is the expectation for production. This can be stressful at times, but ultimately it is very beneficial to understand this type of environment before taking the next career step. The expectation for production will absolutely be there at the next level, regardless of what a person wants to do. I know it helped me be able to handle the kind of high-throughput, high-production environment in industry. At Covance BioA we work hand-in-hand with the clients both big and small in the pharmaceutical industry. These companies have outsourced much of what used to be in-house research to CROs (Contract Research Organizations) like Covance. I develop methodology to accurately quantitate a variety of small molecule compounds in wide variety of matrices—blood, urine, plasma, etc. These are smaller molecules than the proteins and peptides the Coon group focuses on, but the LC-MS training I had in the lab gave me the foundational knowledge required to do this job effectively.

There’s also culture of peer-to-peer mentorship within the Coon group—senior students slid naturally into advising younger students. This aspect has helped me in the management side of my job. As the technical lead I liaise with the method development, validation, principle investigators, and operation chemists to make sure they’re adequately supported. I also am an active participant in much of the operational troubleshooting that occurs within the department.

In grad school there’s a general emphasis on process, but one thing that’s unique about the Coon group is the expectation for production.”

What was the most rewarding part of graduate school?

Going from zero to expert about something. Besides the formal accomplishment of getting the PhD, going from knowing almost nothing about mass spectrometry and LC-MS to the point of being able to publish manuscripts in prestigious journals was really a rewarding feeling. The best advice I could give to someone considering grad school (and to anyone in general, I think) is to LEARN MORE. The more information you have, the better you can decide if grad school is the place for you!

Earn your Ph.D. with us

The Coon Group is always on the lookout for new members.  Professor Coon accepts students from several UW-Madison doctoral programs including Chemistry, the Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB), and Cellular & Molecular Pathology.