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Science Track: BS/MS in the US & PhD in Europe - Dr. Rana Edwards

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Hometown: Alexandria, Egypt

Bachelor’s: Pharmacology - Stony Brook University, NY (2011)

Masters: Pharmaceutical Sciences (Medicinal Chemistry) – St. John’s University, NY (2015)

PhD: European Doctorate in Organic Chemistry (Nanomedicine) – University of Milan (2019)

Current Profession: Co-Founder - Technology based F&B Start-up.

TL;DR: Dr. Rana Edwards grew up in Alexandria, she co-founded a F&B start-up in Milan. She earned her Bachelor's in Pharmacology at Stony Brook University, her Masters from St. John's University. She also received a European PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Milan.

Rana, can you tell us a bit more about yourself?

Growing up I was exposed to an environment that emphasized value in scientific fields. I did not necessarily aspire to study abroad at a younger age but ended up unexpectedly immigrating to the US with my family. I have always treated education as an adventure, with flexibility and open-mindedness. The Education Privilege is a lot more than a path for a permanent stable job, it’s an endless journey of curiosity, chaos, ups and downs, skill sharpening, and personal development.

Let’s go back in time a little. When did you first consider applying to undergraduate school in the U.S.?

I was introduced to the process of University Applications through the High School “College counseling office” in the States. In the last year of Highschool I started processing applications and taking entry-exams (SATs and SAT subjects: Chemistry - required in some science-based programs), which was very last minute and unrecommended. The advice is to always start the University applications process the latest by Junior Year (2 years before graduation). I took SATs twice, prepared my personal statement, got recommendation letters from career Counselor/Teachers, and submitted the applications (Direct submission – individual University Websites). I was aiming for pre-medical, pre-pharmacy, or pre-PhD track (see Prerequisites below). Finally, I got accepted into 2 out of 5 Universities and decided to pursue a research-based bachelor’s degree in Pharmacology at Stony Brook University, NY.

What are the prerequisites for doctoral fields in the U.S.?

To better clarify, in the US, medical, dental, pharmacy, physical therapy, and other doctoral fields require the completion of an undergraduate degree with specific pre-track coursework (see the links below) before the second round of applications to the desired doctoral field. At this point the undergraduate GPA, corresponding standardized exam score (MCAT, PCAT, DAT, GRE), and overall application (strong recommendation letters, research experience, volunteer work, community service, leadership track) all factor into the application process. The websites below are the official and best references for requirements, free exam samples, and information.

Medical School: here

Dental School: here

Pharmacy School: here

Physical Therapy: here

Graduate School (Master’s and PhDs): here

How did you decide on your major/career?

One aspect that is highly emphasized in High Schools and universities in the US is career evaluation. Two valuable tools that I found to be highly effective in evaluating lifelong career decisions were:

1) Career tests here

2) Shadowing (to observe the work setting without participating), volunteering, or having conversations with professionals in the sector of interest. These experiences provide great perspective and can also occasionally result in recommendation letters from professionals that are best fit to describe your enthusiasm and passion for the field of interest.

Did you pursue your masters degree directly after your undergraduate degree?

No. After graduating with my BS in Pharmacology with Honors, I had a strong inclination to pursue a career in academia and research. I took some time off to work in research and to teach as an adjunct lecturer at different local universities. Then, I ended up applying for a master’s in Pharmaceutical Sciences: Medicinal Chemistry at St. John’s University, NY (where I was teaching at the time). The university application was straightforward (directly through the school website), and required GRE scores, competitive undergraduate GPA, research experience, and recommendation letters. I applied and received funding in the form of a full scholarship, and a monthly stipend for the position of Teaching assistant (weekly commitment 15 hours of teaching at the school of Pharmacy).

After earning your bachelor's and masters at the U.S. What made you decide to move to Europe for your PhD?

The following academic step for me was unusually thrilling. At that point, I had accumulated a good amount of experience at evaluating what a good research experience should consist of for my PhD in terms of mentorship, funding, network, and research topics. While doing some in-depth research of my field of interest (Pharmaceutical/Medicinal Chemistry), I found links to a new European commission grant under Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA), a highly prestigious research funding organization that creates networks bridging between universities, research centers, and industrial companies. This grant offered 13 students the opportunity to work on a collaborative PhD topic in nanomedicine, via rotations in labs in Paris, Spain, Germany, Hungary, and Italy where I was based. The application was similar to a job interview, I had to email the project coordinator my CV, academic degrees, letter of interest, research experience and publications. The interviews varied from one lab or company to the other, in my case I had to fly to Milan and do a 30 minutes presentation of previous research work in addition to a committee interview with the coordinators. Out of hundreds of applicants, the final selection pool consisted of 6 students. I was gratefully selected for the program and had a very interesting PhD journey as part of a unique collaborative network of top-notch scientists and academics in Europe. In my case, the PhD was fully funded by MSCA with a generous monthly stipend, I did not have to apply for any additional grants or scholarships.

Link for the project I participated in: here

How can students interested in pursuing a PhD take advantage of this Program?

I highly recommend students seeking STEM PhDs, Post-Docs, Fellowships, etc to check the referenced MSCA website. They are constantly posting new available positions and grants. Labs are looking for experienced, skilled, innovative students that can benefit from such rigorous programs. To be a competitive applicant, one has to treat these positions as a job application and display the translational skills that would be a real asset to the research project under evaluation.

What message do you have for students?

There are so many thrilling opportunities out there that require taking a step further than what we are pre-programmed to think. Have the courage to create and pursue new opportunities and write your own story!

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