Stephania Guzman '15
Dr. Stephania Guzman ’15: Faculty Mentorship & Real-World Research Lead to PhD & Pharmaceutical Career

Degree: Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science
Hometown: Queens, New York
Programs: Honors ProgramPRISM
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Nathan Lents

“John Jay gave me the tools, resources, and foundation for all my future successes. It was where my passion for research began and led to my earning a Ph.D. in cellular and molecular pharmacology from Rutgers University. Today, I work at Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company making great strides in patient care. I hope that through my work, I’ll be able to improve treatment for people living with diabetes.” 

What was life like growing up? 
I grew up in a diverse community in Queens, New York. As the daughter of immigrants from Peru, I greatly appreciated the sacrifices my parents made to come to this country. They gave up their dreams so I could pursue mine. My mom was a stay-at-home mom while my dad worked, and it was mom who got me started in science. She saw it sparked my enthusiasm, so science became our hobby. Every year we’d work on my science fair projects together­. She helped make them fun, exciting, and complex. Growing up, I never envisioned that the projects mom and I did for fun would become the foundation for what I would be doing for a living. 

How did John Jay prepare you for success in the Ph.D. program at Rutgers?
I had excellent mentors in both PRISM and the Honors program who saw my potential, pointed me to learning opportunities that would set me up for future success, and encouraged me to go to grad school. In PRISM, I conducted research with my mentor Dr. Nathan Lents, learned the intricacies of a lab, and went out into the field. I also had the opportunity to attend conferences, present my work, and meet other scientists. 

In what ways did Dr. Lents enhance your John Jay experience?
Dr. Lents was the most incredible mentor. He was caring and supportive and spoke to me with such respect. Dr. Lents went out of his way to line up experiential learning opportunities for me. One research opportunity that stands out was when I worked with him at a body farm in Knoxville, Tennessee. We had the chance to study decomposing bodies—which was fascinating. 

Dr. Lents showed me that grad school was a real possibility for my future. He shared what earning his Ph.D. was like. Those conversations gave me a great perspective on the grad school experience. When I decided to take a break after graduation, he encouraged me to work in a lab setting to build up my resume. Following his advice, I worked for two years as a research study assistant at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in their melanoma clinical trial unit. I got to work with a great team there and realized how much I love conducting clinical trials. 

When I decided to apply to grad school, Dr. Lents wrote me a recommendation letter that landed me interviews at universities like Yale and Rutgers. And, when I went to Rutgers and joined the Ph.D. program in molecular and cellular pharmacology, his lessons had a profound impact on my studies. The knowledge I gained in his biology courses—along with the research skills I learned in the field with him—constantly came up. His mentorship kept me one step ahead at Rutgers. 

Where are you working now?
I’m at Eli Lilly and Company as part of its Leadership Development Program, which is a two-year program where I work full time, rotating between three different departments. At the end of the program, I get to choose which department I want to work for.

My first rotation was in Business Development, where I learned about the external biotech space. For my second rotation, where I am currently, I’m a clinical trial project manager in the diabetic space, which is very much up my alley. I focused a lot of my graduate research on diabetes because I saw the health disparities in minority communities.

So far, it’s been a fantastic experience. Eli Lilly is a big company with many moving parts contributing to a significant common goal—providing better patient care. Being able to be part of that process is such an amazing feeling of accomplishment.

What advice do you have for students hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Apply to internships and network as much as you can. Taking advantage of the opportunities that enable you to expand your skill set, connect with peers, and learn from people working in the industry is essential. You never know where those opportunities will take you.