Caudill Laboratories, where Whitesides has worked throughout his career at UNC
CHAPEL HILL, NC — Michael Whitesides, senior chemistry major, was put on academic probation Monday after reports surfaced that he received illegal gifts from recruiters for the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.
Rumors of illicit activity first emerged after Whitesides was seen driving a rented Mercedes-Benz to and from Caudill Laboratories earlier in the semester. Then, on September 25, Whitesides aroused further suspicion when he tweeted “livin the hi lyfe lol #GlaxoSmithKash” from his personal Twitter account while attending an academic conference in London. The account has since been deactivated.
A reporter for The Minor subsequently discovered a trove of receipts paid by GlaxoSmithKline representatives for an “M. Whitesides.” The receipts cover plane tickets, entertainment, and five-star hotel accommodations coinciding in time and location with the London conference and several others that Whitesides attended over the past four months.
The number one recruit in his class and the son of legendary chemist George Whitesides, Michael won the James H. Maguire Memorial Award for outstanding research by a junior last year, and was the favorite for the Carrie Largent Award for Research Excellence upon his graduation this spring. Deemed a “prodigy” by several industry analysts, Whitesides was the subject of intense attention from professional recruiters at the outset of his senior year.
“Everyone wants [Whitesides],” said a recruiter who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “and most of us would do just about anything to get him.”
GlaxoSmithKline declined official comment on the incident.
The Department of Chemistry’s decision to place Whitesides on probation came soon after the discovery of the receipts was reported late last week. As an official American Chemical Society probe looks imminent, spokespeople within the Department of Chemistry and those close to Whitesides have denied any prior knowledge of the alleged impropriety.
“We are looking into the allegations, and a full investigation will occur before any more steps will be taken,” said Department of Chemistry spokesman Lane Perdue in a statement to the press. “We will provide full cooperation in assessing to what extent, if any, these allegations hold up.”
Despite Whitesides’s suspension, several faculty within the Department of Chemistry have cautioned observers against rushing to judgement in the matter.
“Michael is a fine young man, and I can tell you that all he wants is to get back in the lab where he belongs” said Valerie Ashby, Department of Chemistry Chair. “Now is not the time to jump to conclusions and ruin the career of a top-notch young chemist.”