From Venezuela to UTHSC, PhD Student Finds Perfect Fit for Study, Leadership

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When Luis Romero started his PhD program in the College of Graduate Health Sciences, he was excited to find something that reminded him of home. As an undergraduate student at Universidad Central de Venezuela, Romero enjoyed being involved in the student government, and was pleased to discover he could also be involved while pursuing his doctorate in Memphis.

Luis Romero

“When I started my program at UTHSC, I knew I wanted to not only help incoming students, but to also help make student life better, especially for those of us coming from other countries. We face many challenges being away from home, and I wanted to help ameliorate those challenges,” Romero said.

Now a third-year PhD student in biomedical sciences with a physiology focus, Romero started out in the student government at UTHSC by volunteering for events. He then became secretary of the Graduate Student Executive Council (GSEC), before serving as president of the GSEC until January of 2023. He is currently the council’s officer for external affairs.

“I always like to think of myself not as a leader per se, but as a representative,” said Romero. “I like to think of myself as a bridge between students and the administration, so we can work together to address the student body’s needs. Sometimes students are more comfortable talking to other students instead of the administration, so I like to be the liaison. I also like working with the administration to help them determine the best and most effective ways to provide for students.”

Although he’s in his third year as a PhD student, this is Romero’s sixth year at UTHSC. He moved to Memphis from Venezuela to work as a lab technician in the College of Graduate Health Sciences. After graduating from college, he knew he wanted to do research, but was unfamiliar with navigating PhD programs.

As it turned out, one of the panelists from Romero’s undergraduate dissertation was a mentor of a faculty member at UTHSC and helped connect him with the College of Graduate Health Sciences.

“After my interview with Dr. Valeria Vasquez, I knew I wanted to do research here. They pleasantly surprised me by being not just wonderful mentors, but also wonderful people. I came here first as a technician to test the waters and develop more of my expertise. And then, by being here in Memphis and being in the lab, I knew that I could thrive in the PhD program.”

Romero’s research focuses on ion channels and how they lead to physiological responses, with the goal of discovering a way to desensitize those channels to reduce pain, particularly from burns. His work has been featured in dozens of publications and abstracts, and he has won numerous awards, including the UTHSC Student Service Award and the Graduate Student of the Year Award from the Department of Physiology.

After graduating with his PhD, Romero plans to do postdoctoral training to learn new techniques and explore new topics. From there, he believes he will most likely enter academia. He says he has the College of Graduate Health Sciences to thank for an excellent experience with both student leadership and his research.

“I came to UTHSC not only because it has a wonderful physiology department, but it’s also well-funded and the working environment is very good. Everyone is very thoughtful and supportive when it comes to your needs.”

Luis Romero, PhD student