On the edge of discovery

They spend endless hours in the lab helping to solve some of the most puzzling medical mysteries of our time while earning their Ph.D. Among UT Southwestern’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences students are a Medical Service Officer with the Army working to become a military researcher, and a young woman who immigrated to America from Mexico with a curiosity for how the brain develops.

Amy Zwierzchowski-Zarate/ Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

“All of my life I’ve been curious about things. From a young child, my parents would take me out camping and just looking up into the stars and just thinking about how we’re on this rock in the middle of space and just trying to understand why and how that works.”

‘When I knew that I wanted to study neuroscience, I looked for the best university, the best kind bed of scientists and faculty that you could learn from.

“I knew I wanted to work with Dr. Diamond. I feel like Dr. Diamond is on the cutting edge of really making a difference in this field that hasn’t had a lot of breakthroughs in a long time. So, I wanted to be a part of that.”

“In our lab, we study that protein tau, and this protein involved in Alzheimer’s disease, but it also goes bad in a bunch of other diseases as well…I’m really trying to understand what drives it to do that.”

“When you really see people who are suffering with these diseases that you’re trying to find an answer for every day it’s super motivating to want to get back in there and try to speed things up for them.” 

Carlo Quintanilla, Cell and Molecular Biology Ph.D. Program

“I’d like to be able to advocate for science, especially basic science and continue to rally support.”

“I wanted to do my Ph.D. since I was in high school, actually.

There’s no one in my family who does science and I think they kind of wonder where I got that from.”

“For me it was always wanting to be on the edge of knowledge and ignorance regardless of whatever field I was and it just so happened that I was drawn towards biology.”

“The core facilities are pretty amazing here and one of the new facilities that they’ve opened here is the Cryo-EM facility. Not many people are trained in the Cryo-EM across the US. It’s just kind of popping up. Some students I know have actually gotten training on that.” 

“I think this is an amazing campus and an amazing place to do basic science. There’s a lot of really outstanding scientists, both at the faculty level, postdoc level and even students that are recruited here that I get to interact with daily.”

Aarin Jones, Genetics, Development and Disease Ph.D. Program

“I had no idea that being a scientist or pursuing a Ph.D. was an option.”

“I wanted to be a ballerina/vet/basketball player and I had it all planned out.”

“UT Southwestern has a strong record of helping students like myself and junior trainees receive fellowship awards and there’s programs and mentors.”

“Science is all about discovering something new and experimenting and trying something that hasn’t been done and pushing the limits. So, with that comes a lot of failure and so that’s something that you have to grow and learn a lot from.”

“I think one thing that UT Southwestern does really well is make everyone feel included and like a family.”

“UT Southwestern has such a collaborative format and atmosphere and they really encourage everyone to succeed.”

Curtis Bacon, Biological Chemistry Ph.D. Program

“We definitely have a diverse culture here at UT Southwestern.”

“I am actually part Native-American.

“I come from a pretty small town – Quapaw, Oklahoma…about 900 people.”

“I wasn’t originally thinking science as a career choice because there’s not a lot of sciences there, they don’t promote it as much. But I did take my first science class in high school and absolutely loved it.”

“Coming here and talking to the various faculty members and students, I could first see that everyone seemed happy here. You don’t always see that when you go to other places.”

“The biggest thing that UT Southwestern has equipped me with is seeing what it takes to do high impact research.

Ana Ortiz, Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

“I really want to find a place where I can continue mentoring, really, to where I can help a new generation of scientists to continue doing strong research in neuroscience.”

“I’m the youngest of four.

“I was born in Mexico and I moved here when I was really young. I was around five.”

“Something about the brain just fascinated me. I was just so interested in what was going on in there and what made you who you are.”

“And there’s quite a few labs here studying that that have very strong publication records.”

“I’m a part of the mechanism disease program and with that I’m able to shadow clinicians and understand how clinical research occurs.”

“I think collaboration – interdisciplinary collaboration is what I looked for because science isn’t just in a little bubble. And you have to go beyond and look at experts in their disciplines and what you can bring.

James McGinnis/Army Second Lieutenant/Biological Chemistry Ph.D. Program

When I sat down here at UT Southwestern, the opening statements just blew me away. I remember looking around and being like, ‘I see myself here’.”

“Juggling both the Army and graduate school has been challenging at moments. But, the graduate faculty here have been very understanding that the Army is something that matters to me and is very important to me so every time that I need to step aside from graduate school, they’ve been very helpful.”

“I think I’m far more confident in my science because of the Army, not just because of what I know, but having the ability to defend what I think and what I believe.”

“Science was never really in the picture. I went through high school, I loved chemistry and biology. I had the greatest teachers that instilled that love for science. :57 But, I thought that everyone who went into science became a physician.”

“I got the college and I started taking classes and I realized that it was the research that inspired me far more than the medicine itself.”

“I hope there’s a way that I can continue my scientific career with the Army. I think with the whole caveat, it’s like do something bigger than yourself and I think it’s here at UT Southwestern.