MD-PhD student prepares for future at bench and bedside
Mathew Sebastian juggles research, clinical experience and leadership in student organizations
Juggling multiple research projects and leadership roles on top of a graduate-level course load might scare off some, but for fourth-year MD-PhD student Mat Sebastian, variety is the spice of life.
Sebastian, in the second year of his graduate training within the Lillian S. Wells department of neurosurgery, says he chose to study at UF because of the many options the MD-PhD Training Program affords in research, clinical experience and student organizations.
“I came here because I knew I wanted to become a physician-scientist. I wanted to help real patients with my discoveries. UF offers a very unique program. As first-year medical students in the MD-PhD program, you learn research with real human subjects. That just doesn’t happen elsewhere,” he says.
Sebastian’s passion for research blossomed while he attended a magnet boarding high school that partners its students with universities to complete research projects. After attending the University of South Carolina, he spent two years in Bethesda, Maryland, as a post-baccalaureate fellow for the National Institutes of Health.
“As a high school student, it was incredible to answer questions that no one had the answers to,” he says.
Sebastian spends most days in various labs throughout the UF College of Medicine campus. In addition to his research with human subjects under Mark Brantly, MD ’79, Sebastian’s graduate research projects include investigating novel therapies for glioblastoma and characterizing the role of genes whose roles haven’t yet been described. Another project focuses on breast cancer. Sebastian works closely with his mentor, chief of neuro-oncology David Tran, MD, PhD, at the McKnight Brain Institute. Sebastian says Tran is charismatic, encouraging and full of advice.
“The most ideal situation in graduate school is finding a mentor you connect with and finding a project you can enjoy working on,” he says. “I was lucky enough to find both.”
Tran says Sebastian is a collaborative and helpful presence on his research team.
“It’s a great pleasure to have Mat in the lab. He’s very smart, thorough and very creative in his thinking,” he says. “He’s functioning at a very senior level for someone at this stage in his career.”
When he’s not in the lab, Sebastian is working to perfect the student experience through involvement in multiple committees and organizations. He currently sits on the UF MD-PhD Program Executive Committee, the UF College of Medicine Student Advocacy Committee and the UF Graduate Student Council.
“As a student, you can truly bring about change. We have faculty at the UF College of Medicine that are very receptive to ideas put forth by students,” he says. “And we as students are constantly motivating each other. The esprit de corps here at UF is making us better scientists and doctors.”