Alexavier Estrada came to UConn as an undergraduate with his heart set on medical school. But as he followed that dream, he began to have doubts.
For one thing, he wanted a profession that would let him spend more time with his loved ones. And as he became involved in laboratory research, he discovered something else: “I really enjoyed working with a tight-knit group of like-minded individuals trying to push the boundaries of science,” he says. “I want to expand the pool of scientific knowledge, as opposed to just utilizing it to help patients.”
Then he enrolled in an introductory psychopharmacology course called Drugs and Behavior taught by Dr. John Salamone. He characterizes the class as “an unexpected gift.” It not only tied together the physiology, biochemistry and general chemistry courses he had previously taken, but it also helped him realize that he could help people through teaching instead of healing them as a medical doctor, he explains.
Now Alex is pursuing his Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences with a concentration in Medicinal Chemistry. His research involves synthesizing compounds to improve and expand the class of antibiotics known as dihydrofolate reductase inhibitors. He will be the first person in his family to earn a doctoral degree.
Even before beginning his Ph.D. work, the young man from Broad Brook, CT, had considerable research experience under his belt. As an undergrad, he worked as a research assistant in the Behavioral Neuroscience division of the Psychology Department under Dr. Salamone, where he prepared his honors thesis: Effort-Impariment and Depression Mimicry Produced by Interleukin l-beta.
When Alex graduated with a B.S. degree in Biological Sciences from UConn in May 2013, he was a full year younger than most of his classmates. He skipped a grade in elementary school. He was also a Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Scholar and one of the 15 members of his class to be awarded a Day of Pride Scholarship, which offers full tuition, room and board.
Although he changed his mind about being a doctor, he says, “Science has always been my focus and passion for as long as I remember. There was never any thought of working and studying in any other field.”