WSU alum '18 has no regrets in pursing an MD/PhD
A MD/PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology alum, Dr. Stephen Dzul ’18 is currently carrying out a transitional year residency at St. Mary Mercy Hospital, Livonia. He will begin his residency in radiation oncology at the Detroit Medical Center in the summer of 2019.
A question Stephen’s often asked is, why an MD/PhD?
The answer starts with his affinity for chemistry. As an undergrad, he majored in chemical engineering for that reason, he says. After earning that B.E., the faster pace of research in biochemistry was appealing.
“I could design an experiment, collect data, and interpret results in a matter of a week or two,” he says. “Comparably, this would take months for animal studies and years for clinical trials.”
As for the MD, “I graduated right after the financial crisis of 2008-09 and started graduate school during the Sequestration in 2013,” he says. “I liked the [idea of the] job security that having an MD provides. The job market for PhD graduates is very competitive and every advantage helps.”
As a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral MD/PhD or Other Dual-Doctoral Degree Fellowship (Parent F30) and American Heart Association: Midwest Associates Predoctoral Fellowship awardee, Stephen was granted added security.
The awards helped him “establish a track record as a funded scientist” and “were a big asset for my residency application,” he says.
His graduate research focused on the Fe-S Cluster Biosynthesis pathway (ISC) in vitro.
“This essential metabolic pathway has been linked to the inherited condition Friedreich's Ataxia. I was designing a method to reproduce the pathway's function in vitro utilizing purified proteins.”
It was during his second year that he had a memorable, “’eureka!’-type moment.”
“During winter break, the whole laboratory was empty. I had some small amount of a sample left, which was going to degrade quickly, so I decided to come in to the lab to put it to use,” he says. “I tried this unusual set-up for an experiment that I didn't expect to work. But to my astonishment, it worked! And that finding lead me down a path I would keep following for the rest of graduate school. It was really thrilling.”
When approached by students considering an MD/PhD, a concern Stephen often hears is “‘I don’t want to delay the start of my life.’ While that’s a fair point as it’s a 7-to-ten-year commitment, I always try to discourage [them] from thinking that way,” he says. “If it’s something you really want to do, you won’t be constantly looking for the light at the end of the tunnel—you’ll be enjoying your journey through it.”
An adage that any prospective student can find useful when weighing the decision to pursue a graduate degree.