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Introducing the Alumni and Student Spotlight feature! We are very proud of our Alumni and Students at UT Health San Antonio – you are making lives better in our communities every day.

We want to tell your stories and celebrate your successes while also introducing you to some of the next generation of health care leaders. We hope you enjoy reading about Alumni and Students who are making a difference for UT Health San Antonio on campus and in their communities.

Mika Sifuentes, Ph.D., Class of 2017, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

What year did you graduate from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio? What degree do you have?

I graduated in 2017 with a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and a Certificate in Translational Science.

What is your specialty?

My dissertation project focused on better understanding a potential treatment for stroke. I worked to understand how thyroid hormone protects the brain against stroke in mice, in the hope of one day translating that protection to human patients.

What was the most valuable lesson – inside or outside the classroom – you learned at UT Health San Antonio?

One of the biggest changes for me in graduate school was that I learned how to step outside my comfort zone and take a more leading role in shaping the world around me. If I saw a need somewhere, I became more confident that I could be the right person for the job. This motivated me to become more active in science communication, outreach, policy, and student leadership. That boost in confidence, and the practical experience I gained in graduate school, will help me maximize the impact of my scientific expertise.

What inspired you to want to become a health care professional?

Ever since I can remember, I have been drawn to scientific discovery, and I knew that this was something that I could do very well. At the same time, it was also important for me that my work have a real impact on helping people. When I was making the decision to go to graduate school, the health aspect of the research being done at UT Health drew me to the Integrated Biomedical Sciences doctoral program.

What do you remember most vividly about your time at UT Health?

One thing that really stood out to me in my experience at the university is how the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences’ leadership was so supportive of student achievement. I can list so many examples in which the administration went the extra mile to help students who went on to achieve great things inside and outside the lab. Sometimes that meant just taking a step back and allowing students to step forward with an ambitious project unobstructed, but that goes a long way in building student trust and confidence, and I think that’s a quality of a school that trains excellent graduate students.

What was your most rewarding experience at the university?

My most rewarding experience at UT Health has been the opportunity for science outreach in the greater San Antonio community. Making science more accessible to the public has a huge impact on building public trust and it empowers communities to make better decisions regarding health and education. The draw toward science is almost innate in response to our natural curiosity, and exposure to the scientific process can be helpful to everyone, regardless of their eventual career path. Helping kids, especially in underserved communities, get an early exposure to science is especially rewarding.

What is your greatest professional achievement?

As a recent graduate, my greatest professional achievement has been the successful defense of my Ph.D. Standing in front of your department and defending 5½ years of research can be overwhelming, but once I started speaking the story flowed like it was the most natural thing in the world. After my presentation, I received so much positive feedback from friends and faculty, which felt incredible.

What is your current occupation and where? What’s a day on the job like for you?

I am currently a medical writer for Acelity, a company that develops medical devices for use in wound care. I work with doctors and nurses using these products in their clinical practice, who then report back their findings on what works or how to make things better. I use this information to publish manuscripts in medical journals so that this research can be accessed by clinicians practicing evidence-based medicine worldwide. I really enjoy working with a more clinical level of research, and I can directly see how getting out information about medical products impacts people’s lives. On a typical work day, I’m communicating with health care consultants, reviewing the existing literature, writing new material, and editing work from other members of my medical writing team.

What advice do you have for current students?

My advice to students is that maximizing your time at graduate school doesn’t mean disappearing into lab and only focusing on academic achievements. It’s important to develop other professional skills that you’ll find are just as important to your success as your scientific expertise. Part of that is knowing when to ask for support when you need it. There are many people invested in helping you to succeed; give yourself every opportunity to advance to the next stage of your career.

Why do you give back to the university?

Getting through a doctoral program is a difficult experience, but UT Health goes beyond the norm when it comes to supporting students and enabling them to succeed. That’s why even as a graduate student I was always one to volunteer to help with recruiting at conferences or meet with visiting students. I want future students to have the same opportunities for a career in science as I’ve had. It’s for that reason that I’ve also returned to the graduate school as a member of the Career Advisory Council, which is a team of biomedical professionals who provide insight into career pathways for UT Health trainees. Post-graduate career support is an excellent example of the many ways that the graduate school has risen to meet student needs and interests.

Corena Shaffer, Class of 2019, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

What is your anticipated graduation date from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio?

The plan is May 2019 to make five years in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, working with Dr. Susan Mooberry in the Department of Pharmacology.

Corena Shaffer in the LabAs a student, which specialty(ies) interest you most?

Pharmacology is my main focus, but there is so much in that one topic. More specifically, I have always been drawn to the understanding and development of chemotherapeutic agents used in breast cancer patients.

What has been the most valuable lesson – inside or outside the classroom – you have learned at UT Health?

Nothing is worth doing if you don’t have a passion for it! You would think that is a pretty simple concept, but I find that so many people, myself included, have put themselves in situations where they are doing something just because they think it is what they should do not because it is what they have a passion for. Once I realigned my life and my education to pursue my passion I became a better student and happier individual!

What inspired you to want to become a health care professional?

Becoming a health care professional means something a little different when you are pursuing a Ph.D. The focus is really moved away from directly interacting with patients to providing caregivers the appropriate tools needed to effectively treat patients. My inspiration actually struck when so many of my pharmacy major friends during undergraduate were memorizing all of these drug names and what they are used for. And while that was what they needed, I wanted to know how drugs worked, why some patients got one drug while other got a different one and why the drugs didn’t always work! I realized the best way to answer those questions was by attending graduate school!

What has been your most rewarding experience at the university thus far?

My most rewarding experience thus far has been teaching an incoming M.D./Ph.D. student. We worked closely together for an entire summer where I taught her different techniques and how to analyze and interpret data. In fact, our work resulted in a publication where we are co-first authors. Seeing her work in the lab and the caliber of science that she is conducting is very rewarding because I know that I gave her some of those basic skills that she uses every day.

What advice do you have for incoming students?

If you aren’t satisfied with where you are, you cannot stay the same and expect your situation to change. As students we often feel like we are at the mercy of our professors or PIs, but there is so much that we can do for ourselves. We can make changes that drastically improve our situations and get us to where we want and need to be more efficiently.

How do you intend to give back and pay it forward for future students?

Following graduation and entering my career, I would love to be an active alumna. I have received some of my most valuable information from panel discussions and talks by alumni that I feel it is only fair to give back in the same way.

It’s your turn in the spotlight!

If you would like to nominate yourself or a fellow alumni or student to be featured in our next Spotlight, please email alumni@uthscsa.edu. Nominations should include: name, graduation year and degree, notable career achievements, current occupation.

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