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BiotechTV U: University of Miami Ph.D. candidates work to build a biotech community in South Florida

Five Ph.D. candidate students at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine tell the story of how they are leveraging Nucleate to build a biotech community in South Florida.

By Avni Bhalgat, Chloe Kirk, Dana Godrich, Natalie Ricciardi, and Olivia Bosquet

University of Miami is one of the nation’s top private research universities, executing projects that amount to $413 million in expenditures annually - the vast majority coming from the Miller School of Medicine. Founded in 1952 as Florida’s first medical school, the Miller School of Medicine is the state’s top NIH funded medical school with over 1,700 faculty and six programs ranked top 25 nationally.

Olivia Bosquet, a 2nd year PhD student in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program at University of Miami, conducts her nanotechnology research in the lab of Dr. Sylvia Daunert. Outside of the lab, Bosquet is part of her department’s student government leadership team helping organize educational, outreach and social opportunities. Having grown up in Miami, Olivia hopes to create job opportunities for the South Florida research community in the biotech sector.

Dana Godrich is a 4th year PhD candidate in the Human Genetics and Genomics program in the lab of Dr. Gary Beecham. She chose the University of Miami for its top ranked genetics program and became a leader within the Biomedical Graduate Student Government, spearheading career development initiatives. Godrich’s research focuses on discovering novel genetic factors associated with Alzheimer disease and related dementias by studying the neuropathologies underlying the disease, extending beyond plaques and tangles. Godrich’s passion for Alzheimer’s disease research is leading her to explore computational biologist or bioinformatician positions after graduate school, and is open to making new connections on LinkedIn or Twitter.

As a 4th year PhD candidate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Chloe Kirk’s research is at the intersection of cancer biology and amyloidogenic diseases. She enjoys communicating science, such as competing at her university’s 3 Minute Thesis Competition, and outside of graduate school has become heavily involved in science policy, writing, and outreach efforts. Kirk’s interest in connecting multiple fields extends beyond science and she plans to pursue a law degree after obtaining her PhD.

Avni Bhalgat is a 4th year PhD candidate in the Cancer Biology program at the University of Miami. Here she works with Dr. Glen Barber studying mechanisms of host defense against microbes and cancer. She works with viral gene delivery agents to boost immune recognition of tumors. Outside of the lab, Bhalgat is active in the student community with the Biomedical Graduate Student Government and Graduate Student Association where she serves as a student liaison between university administration, faculty, and students.

In her past 5 years as a PhD candidate in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program, Natalie Ricciardi’s research has focused on the contributions of exercise-induced neuronal DNA damage to long term memory formation in mice. Natalie plans to use her experience in both healthy brain aging as well as preclinical Alzheimer’s therapeutic discovery to pursue a career in biotech at the intersection of the longevity and neurodegenerative disease space. Her advisors Dr. Claes Wahlstedt and Dr. Claude-Henry Volmar have experience in both research commercialization and drug discovery, consistently fueling her passion for a career that aims to enable translational research through education, community outreach, and hands-on training.

In addition to pursuing their PhDs in the life sciences, these students have founded the Florida chapter of Nucleate - a Boston-based student-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit designed to empower the next generation of biotech entrepreneurs. With this new initiative, their goal is to create a self-sustaining biotech hub in Florida with 3 main missions: (1) increase access to biotech education for all academic trainees, (2) provide leadership and career development opportunities that will position trainees competitively in the life science job market, and (3) accelerate the quality and quantity of Florida life science companies by running a non-dilutive accelerator for emerging academic technologies. Within the 8 months since founding the chapter in October of 2022, the original all-female team has rapidly grown to include a team of 15 leadership, a panel of advisors with experience that ranges from academic founder to investor, and a thriving community of 150+ students, entrepreneurs, academic faculty, investors, scientists, and more.

Thank you to the extremely talented videographer Jose Vasquez for filming and producing this video!


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