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Advice from a Recent Grad, Since Recruited to a Top MD-PhD Program

Advice from a Recent Grad, Since Recruited to a Top MD-PhD Program

​Ryan Huizar, a recent UT Austin alum, is embarking on a new journey this fall at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine at one of the most competitive MD-PhD programs in the nation. The MD-PhD dual doctoral degree prepares students for careers as physician-scientists, balancing research and clinical care of patients.

Huizar is a veteran of the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) program, working in the Biobricks stream and as an undergraduate researcher in the Wallingford Lab, where exploring embryonic development is done though in vivo research in frogs. 

Huizar told us about his time at UT Austin and shared his tips to success for new students.

What made you want to pursue an MD-PhD?

I have a passion for the slow-moving, nitty-gritty, failure-plagued world of basic science. It is enthralling to chip away at a research question day after day until you are able to make a conclusion, a process that makes you one of a select few experts on your subject. However, through the clinical experiences I have taken part in over the course of my undergraduate years, I learned that I value the physician-patient relationship. Being able to come into work each day and know you have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on a patient is extremely appealing, and few outside of the medical profession can have an impact of the same magnitude. The MD-PhD allows for the best of both worlds. In the lab, you are able to delve into the basic science surrounding clinically relevant concepts, while simultaneously treating patients and potentially applying said research in the clinic.

How did UT Austin prepare you for all of this?

Coming into UT, I felt that the large size would restrict my ability to participate in organizations or to form close connections with faculty members and other students. However, I learned that the opposite was true early on. Between the organizations I was involved with (TIP Scholars, Health Science Scholars, University Leadership Network, etc.), I was able to meet many like-minded students, upperclassmen, as well as faculty mentors that helped put me on a path that allowed me to find my niche on campus. Perhaps the most important of these groups was the Freshman Research Initiative, which allowed me to gauge my interest in research and subsequently find a lab to pursue independent projects.

Why did you want to work in the Wallingford Lab?

When I came to UT, an appreciation for developmental biology had already been instilled in me. My high school AP biology teacher had earned her PhD in developmental biology and was extremely enthusiastic about the subject when teaching. As soon as I learned (through the FRI) that research was something I wanted to pursue long term, I began to reach out to faculty members that studied developmental biology. As I searched through the faculty pages on the UT website, the Wallingford Lab stood out in particular due to their unusual model system – Xenopus laevis, a frog. Though I knew nothing about the subject matter of their work, this was enough to grab my attention and push me to set up a meeting with John. His laid-back demeanor, coupled with the obvious mutual respect he shared with members of his lab and other faculty on campus made it clear that he would be a fantastic mentor for me.

What do you wish you'd known before coming to UT?

I wish someone would have told me to not stress so much about classes early on. Spending time building friendships, exploring Austin, and participating in extracurricular activities allowed me to enjoy my time in college much more without sacrificing my GPA. In my opinion, these experiences are equally, if not more, important than anything you will learn in the classroom.

What lessons did you learn working in a lab that helped your life in general?

I could go on about this question for quite some time, but the one lesson that science illustrates better than any other is the role of failure in personal growth, learning to roll with the punches. Upon entering the Biobricks FRI stream my freshman year, I felt that experiments would be like any assignment I had faced up to that point – you learn something, you apply it, you succeed – I couldn't have been more wrong. I messed up my experiments for the better part of the semester, failure after failure after failure. But towards the end of my time with the stream, I began to appreciate that this was part of the learning process. In each failure, I learned a little more about the experiments I was doing until I was successful. Becoming familiar with failure early on eased my transition into doing independent work in the Wallingford Lab, as well as picking up new skills and getting accustomed to new situations in general.

What's your favorite place to eat in Austin?

Moonshine (Best chicken and waffles in Austin!!!!)

What's your favorite coffee shop?


What are the best places to study on campus and off campus?

On campus – Before 5pm: Upper floors of NHB (Norman Hackerman Building)

After 5pm: Sanger Learning Center in Jester Dorm

Off campus – I enjoyed reading for class at Zilker Park alongside my two dogs.

What's your Dungeons & Dragons alignment (e.g. Lawful Good)?

Chaotic Good, probably.

Another Longhorn heads to the same program...

Huizar isn't the only Longhorn at Johns Hopkins as of this fall. Wesley Godfrey, a Dean's Honored Graduate in Biology, conducted research in the lab of Lauren Ehrlich on the immunology of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). He is also enrolled in the Johns Hopkins MD-PhD program, with full funding awarded through the NIH's Medical Scientist Training Program.

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Sunday, 26 March 2023

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