Forging her path to a Ph.D.

Sheer power of will and support from the TU research community pushed Victoria Akingbehin to pursue her Ph.D. in cancer research

By GRACE HOGGARTH '22 on June 24, 2024

Woman student stands in lab in Science Complex
(Alexander Wright | Towson University)

Victoria Akingbehin 鈥24 never anticipated pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences immediately after her undergraduate studies, but the academic and social bonds she formed through her research helped her realize her potential.

Akingbehin made the transition to TU from Baltimore City Community College in 2022 through the TU Research Enhancement Program (TU REP), which offers students the opportunity to engage in research early in their academic career and throughout their experience at TU. Now, after two years of research, Akingbehin is ready to attend St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences to pursue her PhD.

While at TU, Akingbehin worked with a small team of peers to conduct several independent research projects, including studying Dictyostelium discoideum, commonly known as slime mold, and utilizing Planaria, a type of flatworm, as model organisms to characterize the effects of bacteria. This research, conducted in a team of three students, received over $1,500 in grants from the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics (FCSM).

Akingbehin took the lead in designing the team鈥檚 experiment and problem solving, something that took her time and confidence, as she did not come from a research background.

鈥淢y biggest achievement throughout all of this was figuring out that model system and designing the experiment. It鈥檚 like my child, I鈥檓 very proud of how the project went,鈥 she says.

Paving her way at TU

This research experience opened up doors to Akingbehin and her research cohort to attend conferences and present their findings to like minds. Most notably, Akingbehin and her team presented their research on planaria flatworms at the the go-to conference for historically excluded community college, undergraduate and postbaccalaureate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Attending the conference was a pivotal moment in Akingbehin鈥檚 academic career and search for community at TU. It was where she determined St. Jude鈥檚 Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences was her dream Ph.D. school, and where she forged long lasting friendships with her lab mates.

Akingbehin is from Nigeria and has a close relationship with her twin sister.

鈥淲hen I came to TU and I was separated from my sister, it was a hard transition because I didn鈥檛 know anyone. But I began to make friends in classes, and they all worked in labs. I found that when we鈥檙e all working towards a common goal, it is easy to connect,鈥 Akingbehin says.

Akingbehin credits her organic chemistry class and Dr. Michelle Snyder with pushing her in the direction of cell and molecular biology research, and eventually toward pursuing a Ph.D. 鈥淭hat course made me realize this is something I can see myself doing long term. It has been so much fun and so enjoyable and it's how I fell in love with working in a lab,鈥 she says.

Snyder was Akingbehin鈥檚 principal investigator throughout her lab research and encouraged her to transfer to TU and pursue research.

鈥淰ictoria has always been such a positive and enthusiastic lab member,鈥 Snyder says. 鈥淲hen we'd run into a snag with a particular experimental method, she wouldn't give up, but would often be the one who'd come up with a creative idea to work through the experimental difficulties. This is a mindset that's hard to teach and it's one of the reasons I know that she's going to do outstanding work in her Ph.D. program.鈥

New horizons

Akingbehin has received over 12 scholarships since her higher education experience began, including the Towson University Summer Research Grant and the Research Impact Award. She was also a student in the Honors College and has presented at and contributed to 15 regional and national presentations.

As she eagerly anticipates the start of her Ph.D. program in the fall, Akingbehin is nervous but excited to take the next step in her career and to make her family proud.

Akingbehin and her family moved to the U.S. in 2016, and she hasn鈥檛 had the opportunity to return home to visit family and friends since. However, she believes in the power of breaking generational barriers in the name of her family.

鈥淚 am grateful for the sacrifices my parents made. It has been nice seeing them watch us grow and accomplish things they weren鈥檛 able to. It puts a lot of things into perspective to be grateful for,鈥 she says.

Through the challenges of finding community in the U.S. and transitioning from a different culture, Akingbehin finds comfort in advice her mother offered her from a young age.

鈥淲herever the soles of my feet go, I will succeed,鈥 says Akingbehin. This is a mantra she has carried with her throughout her life. It applies to moving from Nigeria, attending TU, and now moving on to pursue her Ph.D.

鈥淚t might not be the easy route, but I will succeed,鈥 she says. 鈥淚t鈥檚 something I live by every day.鈥

Seeing the work that she鈥檚 doing contribute to something greater than herself keeps her going, and she knows that no matter what, she will succeed.