Student Success Story: Samantha Podurgiel


Samantha Podurgiel, PhD Student

Tell me about your educational path.

I entered UConn in 2006 as a psychology major. Spring semester of my sophomore year, I took a physiological psychology course and knew I wanted to focus on the behavioral neuroscience area of psychology. The first semester of my junior year, I added a neuroscience minor and began working in a behavioral neuroscience laboratory. I enrolled in graduate-level behavioral neuroscience courses during my senior year, and decided that this was a path I wanted to continue down. After earning my bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2010, I came back to UConn for graduate school in behavioral neuroscience the following fall. I earned my master’s degree in 2012, and I am on track to defend my doctoral dissertation this coming April. I was recently accepted to the full-time MBA program at the UConn School of Business and will be starting in the fall.

Tell me about your research. What area did you focus on for your PhD?

My research is primarily on the motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, with a particular emphasis on resting tremor. My doctoral research is a compilation of five studies in which I use a pharmacological rodent model to study the factors that contribute to the generation of tremor and to evaluate potential therapeutic agents.

What are your future career goals?

After earning my MBA in 2017, I hope to combine my business skills with my background in scientific research to attain a management position at a pharmaceutical company.

What resources did you use to guide and support your career path?

This past fall, after deciding that I wanted to earn my MBA, I reached out to the Center for Career Development to help prepare my résumé and application essays. After being invited to interview for the MBA program at UConn, a career counselor at the center helped me organize my ideas and prepare potential responses.

Tell me about a goal you have set for yourself and how you have achieved it or intend to achieve it.

I am constantly setting goals for myself, whether they are minor or more significant. Over the past two years, I started doing yoga regularly. During class, I set small goals for myself, and once I meet these challenges, I raise the bar. By doing so, I have become stronger, both physically and mentally. I think there are two primary factors that help me accomplish my goals: my ability to self-motivate and my determination. Once I set a goal, I commit to it. So far, the largest goal I have set for myself is to earn a PhD. To achieve this goal, I can apply the same framework as I do to yoga: accomplish small steps, and then move on to more challenging aspects.

What activities are you involved in outside of the classroom?

I do yoga 5-6 times per week. Doing yoga helps me to relax mentally, while engaging physically. The community is extremely supportive and helps me maintain a positive outlook on all aspects of my life.

What experiences helped you realize that you wanted to pursue an MBA after your PhD?

In a lab, each study is made up of multiple experiments that involve different paradigms and manipulations, and therefore require teamwork. I enjoy strategically planning the components of the project to assure that it is accomplished in the most efficient way possible. This led me to recognize that I enjoy the management aspects of the research process and pursuing an MBA will help me expand my skill set.

I noticed you have an internship on your résumé. In what ways was your internship at Pfizer, the pharmaceutical research and development company, important to your educational and career path?

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to intern at a pharmaceutical company. I now have first-hand experience in both the industry and academia research settings, which has dramatically strengthened my collection of professional skills and allowed me to recognize my most significant talents and interests. I love the fast-paced, structured environment that the pharmaceutical industry offers, and the UConn MBA program has two renowned pharmaceutical companies as corporate partners. This significantly contributed to my decision to pursue my MBA.

Have you had mentors in the past, and if so, how have they guided you throughout your journey?

My advisor, Dr. John Salamone, has been my mentor since my first day in grad school. Throughout the past 5 years, he has provided me with support and guidance in all aspects of the program. He directs my research goals, critiques my writing, helps prepare me for presentations, and takes the lab members out to celebrate our personal successes. Additionally, during my first two years of the program, I overlapped with a more senior graduate student, Lyndsey Collins-Praino. Lyndsey taught me almost all of the lab techniques I used for my research, advised me on which courses to take, and was always available to answer my questions. Finally, during my internship in 2010, I worked for Ankur Thomas, a talented, driven, down-to-earth scientist, with whom I still maintain contact. Ankur’s upbeat personality and the confidence he instilled in me made the experience even more rewording.

Which of your skills do you feel are going to be most useful to you moving forward?

The behavioral neuroscience program has dramatically improved my organization and communication skills. As graduate students, we are required to complete a multitude of responsibilities, including coursework, research, teaching, and completion of written and oral examinations. Therefore, to accomplish these tasks successfully, organization is critical. Additionally, teaching has enhanced my communication skills, marked by my ability to effectively deliver content and answer questions. In the past five years, I have given four talks in the behavioral neuroscience seminar, orally defended my master’s thesis, and proposed my dissertation to my five committee members. Furthermore, I have presented my research to fellow scientists at nine conferences.

Do you have any advice for students in building their network?

Take advantage of the resources that UConn offers. When you receive a generic e-mail from the university about an info-session, open-house, or seminar, and the topic even slightly appeals to you, go check it out. You don’t know who you will end up meeting or where the information you gained could lead you.

What advice would you give to your fellow UConn students?

Do not restrict yourself when it comes to your future. If you have an idea of a field you want to transition into, and it is not what you are currently studying, do not tell yourself it’s too late. I was extremely apprehensive to even apply to MBA programs given my lack of background knowledge, and now I could not be more thrilled about the possibilities that lie ahead.

By Ellen Morelli
Ellen Morelli Career Intern