May 16, 2013

Promise of discovery drives Biomedical Sciences graduates

Vanderbilt awarded 66 Ph.D. degrees to an accomplished group of students in Medical Center-related departments and programs.

Natalia Jiménez Truque, Ph.D., here with mentor Buddy Creech, M.D., MPH, is the first Vanderbilt student to earn a doctoral degree in Epidemiology. (photo by Steve Green)

At last week’s Graduate School commencement ceremony, Natalia Jiménez Truque, Ph.D., went into the annals of Vanderbilt history — as the very first student to earn a doctoral degree in Epidemiology.

A native of Costa Rica, Jiménez Truque celebrated with visiting family members, including her father, who inspired her interest in science when she was 7 years old by letting her peer through the microscope in his laboratory at the National Children’s Hospital, Costa Rica.

“It’s an honor for me, for my family and for my home country of Costa Rica,” Jiménez Truque said of receiving the first Vanderbilt Ph.D. in Epidemiology.

The doctoral program in Epidemiology launched in 2009.

James Barnett, left, Ph.D. in Nursing Science, talks with Preston Campbell, Ph.D. in Pharmacology. (photo by Steve Green)

“We’re so pleased with the students in our program, and we’re especially pleased that Natalia is our first Ph.D. graduate. She’s everything we hope each graduate will be — quantitatively gifted, intellectually driven and scientifically creative. She’ll make a great faculty colleague,” said Katherine Hartmann, M.D., Ph.D., director of Graduate Studies for the Vanderbilt Ph.D. Program in Epidemiology.

Jiménez Truque has worked with Buddy Creech, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of Pediatrics, to investigate methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a pathogen that poses a significant threat to public health around the world. She will continue her studies at Vanderbilt as a research instructor in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

Vanderbilt awarded 66 Ph.D. degrees to an accomplished group of students in Medical Center-related departments and programs.

Every student published at least one first-author paper, and 53 percent published two or more first-author papers. On average, graduating students published four papers as a result of their graduate work at Vanderbilt, said Abigail Brown, Ph.D., director of Outcomes Research in the Office of Biomedical Research Education and Training. Their research appeared in high-impact journals including Nature, Science, Nature Cell Biology, Nature Chemical Biology and the Journal of Clinical Investigation, she added.

Christopher Cummings, Ph.D. in Biochemistry, and Anna Cummings, Ph.D. in Human Genetics, met at Vanderbilt and married during graduate school. (photo by Steve Green)

Nearly half of the students made presentations at national or international meetings, and 13 of the students had external fellowship funding.

Most of the newly minted Ph.D. graduates — 78 percent — are continuing their training with postdoctoral fellowships, Brown said, a proportion that is consistent with previous years. These include traditional positions in academic research laboratories as well as non-traditional industry, government and clinical fellowships.

At the commencement ceremony, Dennis Hall, Ph.D., vice provost for Research and dean of the Graduate School, reminded the graduates that “human history is, in essence, a history of fighting over ideas. In every era, there are great ideas that endure, and then there are other ideas that don’t.

“I urge you to help sort that out, by getting out there and joining the never-ending struggle over ideas,” Hall said.