Biomedical sciences cohort celebrates student-mentor connections
The 45 doctoral students and their mentors will collaborate on leading-edge research over the next few years
Oct. 23, 2022 — In a cheerful ceremony celebrating community and support, 45 second-year doctoral candidates in the University of Florida College of Medicine’s Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences gathered with their peers and professors Oct. 18 to recognize the importance of mentorship for building strong careers in scientific discovery.
Throughout their first year in the program, Ph.D. students rotate through three research labs to explore their field and find the faculty member and lab environment that best fits their interests. It is one of the most significant choices they make during their time at UF, said Thomas C. Rowe, Ph.D., the associate dean for graduate education. Celebrating the culmination of the mentor match process as a community also inspires younger students and provides a tantalizing glimpse into their future.
“It’s a very important first step,” said Rowe at the sixth annual Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences Mentor-Match Celebration in the George T. Harrell, M.D., Medical Education Building. “Mentors introduce students to the culture of their discipline and give them a foothold. They are also advocates for their students. These students are going to be the next generation of scientists who change their fields of study after they graduate. And then most importantly, these mentees are eventually going to become the next generation of mentors.”
Ph.D. student Cristina Besosa, creator of the neuroscience podcast In Your Brain, is being co-mentored by husband-and-wife duo Sara N. Burke, Ph.D., the associate director of the College of Medicine’s Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory, and assistant professor Andrew Maurer, Ph.D. Besosa said she is excited and nervous to work with them for the next few years on bridging animal and human studies of the brain to better understand the cognitive circuit and, more specifically, areas that seem to be disrupted in mood disorders.
“I’m really trying to enjoy every single moment, even every setback; there’s beauty in that,” Besosa said. “The most interesting part of having mentors is that they can guide you and transmit their experience in the field so you can start understanding who’s who, who studies what, how to interpret different things and how to be a better scientist at the end.”
As a self-described neuroscience nerd originally from the Dominican Republic, Besosa has always been an extremely curious person wondering how things work. Mental health is a particular interest of hers and a field she believes needs a lot more research.
“I love learning and thinking about how our brains are all unique and different in some way and how that can manifest biologically,” she said. “I’m really curious to understand the brain and how things like anxiety or schizophrenia can develop or manifest in someone’s life. I want to change the stigma of ‘this is how a normal brain should be.’ It’s more like all brains are different, and nothing is ‘better’ or ‘worse.’ There are things to learn from every brain.”
Ph.D. student Destiny Davis, who selected the molecular cell biology concentration, said upon rotating through the lab of her mentor assistant professor Emily Moser, Ph.D., she felt comfortable and at home right away.
Davis had always known she wanted to work at the junction of medicine and research, and she fell in love with cancer research while earning her master’s degree in biotechnology at the Florida Institute of Technology. Moser’s lab allowed her space to grow and combine her cancer research interest with immunology.
“I wanted an environment where I could just be free to learn and have a good relationship with my mentor,” Davis said. “I wanted someone who I could trust and someone who I could be open with and not feel intimidated to talk to. I instantly felt like this is where I wanted to be.”