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UTHSC Research Student Daniel Bastardo Ready to Change the World

Born in Venezuela, UTHSC student Daniel Bastardo plans to use his research training and communications skills to make a difference in the world. (Photo by Peter Barta/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital)

College of Graduate Health Sciences student Daniel Bastardo considers himself a citizen of the world.

Born in Venezuela, the 27-year-old is primed to explore what the world has to offer. But for now, he’s happy to live in Memphis and be working toward his PhD in biomedical sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

“I came to Memphis because of St. Jude (Children’s Research Hospital), but I fell in love with Memphis because of Memphis,” Bastardo says. “I think Memphis is such a great city for culture and history, and the people are just lovely. There’s so much to do, so much art, so much music, and I love that very much about the city. Also, I recognize so many challenges the city faces, but I love the fact people are so passionate about fixing the challenges.”

Bastardo left Venezuela at age 16 to study in the United States. He had planned to attend veterinary school in his home country, until his mother heard on the radio about a study abroad scholarship program for sports stars expanding for the first time to academic stars. “That was my fit, so I decided to participate,” he says.

He competed against more than 100 students and was accepted into the program, receiving a scholarship to study at Elmira College in New York. He graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in biology.

“I realized my passion really was for science and for research, and I wanted to do my work in such a way that it would have an impact on people,” Bastardo says. “That’s how I decided to pursue a career in science and to get a PhD.”

He applied to multiple research programs with a close connection to a health system or hospital. He had done a summer internship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and loved an environment where the research was so close to the patient.

Bastardo came to UTHSC in 2013. He now works at St. Jude in the lab of Hongbo Chi, PhD, studying immune metabolism, or the metabolic pathways of T-cells. In particular, he is interested in understanding how glycolysis (the break down of glucose) affects T-cell-mediated immune responses, with the goal of finding ways to block tumor growth. He intends to graduate in May 2019.

“When I came to UTHSC to do my PhD, I was very focused and I wanted to continue to do a postdoc,” he says. Now, he is exploring various careers in science related to entrepreneurship and communications.

“I am looking at working with either a nonprofit organization or start-up companies where I can help them with their communication projects, explaining to investors what science is behind the inventions so they can have the investments, or working with communities to teach people or help people understand the importance of the science and how it can relate to them,” he says.

Bastardo has used his time at UTHSC to develop not only his scientific side, but his nature as a people person.

He has helped organize the city’s Taste of Science week, an annual national festival to celebrate science. Researchers are stationed at bars and coffee shops nightly to talk about their areas of research. This year, he took charge of the graduate student night.

Bastardo has also been active in student government in the College of Graduate Health Sciences. He is finishing up a term as president of the Graduate Student Executive Council (GSEC) this month.

Daniel Bastardo, second from right, has been active in student government at UTHSC. He is pictured with other student leaders at the recent Student Government Association Executive Council banquet. (Photo/UTHSC)

Donald Thomason, PhD, dean of the college, says Bastardo’s enthusiasm and energy are infectious. “This is a trait that not only makes him a good leader, it also doesn’t let hurdles slow him down in progressing toward a goal.”

Bastardo is pleased that he has helped the GSEC to draft a strategic plan for the future that includes expanding resources for graduate students, increasing career coaching and training, and helping them become more aware of alternative careers outside the lab.

“Often in academia, we don’t realize how many options we have,” Bastardo says. “My interests have shifted out of academia and I’ve come to realize there are not that many resources available for us. We have been working at expanding resources for graduate students and trying to promote more career coaching and more training opportunities for students to realize how many different skills they learn throughout their PhD training.”