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Biology Alumna Shares Doctoral Research and Graduate School Journey with Students

Jorge Jones

While attending graduate school is a dream for many, the path to get there might look different for some. For alumna and soon-to-be-Ph.D. graduate Hannah Elam ’18, her journey demonstrates that regardless of the path one takes, constant perseverance and determination are key contributors to achieving one’s dreams.

Elam, a 2018 graduate who received a Bachelor of Science in Biology with specialization in Molecular Biology, is a fifth-year Ph.D. student in the Neuroscience discipline of the Integral Biomedical Sciences Program at UT Health San Antonio. Presently working with Dr. Daniel Lodge in the Department of Pharmacology, her research focuses on investigating orexin antagonists as novel therapeutics for post-traumatic stress-disorder and comorbid psychosis.

This past month, Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Danielle Grove invited the former biology student back to campus to give a symposium on her current research.

“I was so excited to be able to come back after five years and share what I have been up to. The professors at TLU, specifically Dr. Grove and Dr. Perez, were instrumental in my journey to graduate school,” Elam shared. “I’m so happy to show them and the biology department what I have been working on the past couple of years.”

Students in attendance had the opportunity to learn about the procedures, techniques, and findings of the modulation of the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus as a novel therapeutic for PTSD and comorbid psychosis.

In addition to sharing her findings, part of Elam's presentation focused on her journey to graduate school. Her experiences encouraged students as they prepare to embark on their own paths in the years to come.

Elam’s higher education journey started in 2008 as a freshman at the University of Texas, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. After culminating her first four years of school in Austin, she moved to Colorado to start a master’s degree in Mental Health counseling. Wanting to explore different career options, Elam moved back to Seguin and worked in retail for a few years. Realizing she wanted to go back to school and pursue another Bachelor of Science, she enrolled in the Molecular Biology program at TLU and completed it in two years.

“I hope students see that the journey to graduate school isn’t always easy or linear but, despite that, you can still go on to do great things,” she emphasized. “I also hope they can get a glimpse into different types of research opportunities available to them after graduation.”

Now that Elam has found a true passion for neuroscience, she hopes her journey inspires future graduate students to know that having an alternate route is not something out of the ordinary. As for students finding themselves in a similar situation, her advice is simple: work hard.

“This sounds very cliché, but my best advice would be to work hard. You can be the smartest person in the world, but if you aren’t willing to put in the time and effort to get your experiments done or papers written, intelligence will only get you so far,” Elam said.

For Elam, returning to her alma mater allowed her to reminisce on her time at TLU. Her years as a biology student served as an integral part in her journey to graduate school. She specifically remembers the knowledge attained during Dr. Grove’s summer research projects.

“I really enjoyed my summer research project with Dr. Grove! She was a great mentor and really helped develop the critical thinking skills and presentation skills that are necessary to succeed in science,” she added.

As of today, Elam is nearing completion of her doctorate and she is looking forward to graduating in May of 2023.