Student Profiles

Veleka Iwuaba in lab
Charles Fermaintt

Charles Fermaintt
Biological Chemistry Graduate Program

Mentor: Nan Yan, Ph.D.
Hometown: Caguas, Puerto Rico 
Awards/Fellowships:  National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), Society for Glycobiology Travel award

Ever since I was very young, I remember overwhelming my parents and teachers with questions about things as an attempt to quench that intrinsic curious nature. At a certain time in my childhood my mother suffered from breast cancer. This experience awakened an interest in understanding why and how do diseases arise. During my 10th grade of high school I participated in an AMGEN sponsored biotechnology summer camp at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez where I was first introduced to how problems in the cell biochemical process can lead to diseases and how they can potentially be treated by understanding them at a molecular level. This interest led me to earn a degree in chemistry with a focus on biochemistry from the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao (UPR-Humacao).

At UT Southwestern Medical Center, I work in Nan Yan's laboratory. I study an endoplasmic reticulum anchored exonuclease known as TREX1/DNAse III. Structurally, TREX1 can be divided into the DNAse domain at the N-terminus and a transmembrane domain at the C-terminus.

"UTSW provides you with the flexibility to be the author of your own training by permitting you to combine different fields to solve unique ground breaking problems."

There were several factors that led me to choose UTSW over other schools. Among these I can highlight three main features of UTSW that led me to finally choose UTSW as my home to do my Ph.D. 1) UTSW has one of the nation's best biochemistry program. In 2015 UTSW's biochemistry program ranked within the top 15 nationwide according to U.S. News & World Report. 2) UTSW has a genuine interdisciplinary program. UTSW provides you with the flexibility to be the author of your own training by permitting you to combine different fields to solve unique groundbreaking problems. The fact that at UTSW you can join a program and then take the tools you learn at that program to solve problems in a lab that studies something different puts you in a position where your creativity, critical thinking, and independence really flourishes. 3) UTSW has a highly collaborative culture. Faculty members and other students alike are eager to help and contribute to your training and research.


Veleka Iwuaba in lab
Katherine Pendleton

Katherine Pendleton
Biological Chemistry Graduate Program
Mentor: Nicholas Conrad, Ph.D.
Hometown: Houston, TX 
Awards/Fellowships:  UTSW Pharmacology Training Grant

While doing my undergraduate at UT, I participated in a program called the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI). FRI students joined a research stream where they all had a project with a similar goal. While I initially participated in the program with the intention of it being a resume-filler for dental school, I found myself spending more and more time in the lab. As my time in FRI ended, I realized that I truly enjoyed research and began to seek out additional research opportunities. Working in a lab showed me that I found science more interesting when I thought about the complex biological problems that underlay medical conditions.

"I truly felt then, and still feel now, that everyone at the school wants to see you develop and succeed as a scientist."

I think the collaborative nature of both the faculty and student body are what sold the school to me. I truly felt then, and still feel now, that everyone at the school wants to see you develop and succeed as a scientist. Here at UT Southwestern I study the gene methionine adenosyltransferase 2A, which expresses both a fully spliced and a retained intron form and has deregulated expression during certain liver cancers.

UT Southwestern has excellent facilities, top-notch faculty, and a very open, collaborative campus. We have great resources whether your project is focused on medicine or basic science (or your project takes a turn from one to the other). I truly feel that I can discuss my research with any of our students or faculty and receive useful feedback and advice.