Ph.D. candidate Garrett Chavis returns to alma mater, offers advice to UNCP undergraduates

Garrett Chavis
Ph.D. candidate Garrett Chavis meets with Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings (far left) and UNCP students Jaelyn Wilson and Nick McNeill during a visit to his alma mater

UNC Pembroke graduate Garrett Chavis admits he was unsure how his academic credentials would stack up to that of other first-year Ph.D. students at the University of Michigan Medical School––home to one of the top research medical programs in the country.

“I was extremely intimidated, coming from a smaller institute to a world-wide recognized institute where there are the top scientists in their field,” he said.

Chavis persevered and overcame self-doubt, landing a Rackham Merit Fellowship, and today he is excelling as a third-year student while engaging in studies with neurons in hopes of finding a direct link to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurogenerative diseases.

“I wasn’t a physiology or neuroscience major coming in. I was a molecular biology major, but I put the work in. Now I’m becoming an expert in some areas. I’ve got graduate students and undergrads asking me questions,” he said.

Currently, Chavis works with the graduate school’s admission team to recruit the next crop of talent. On a recent trip to his alma mater, he met with former professors and administrators before discussing his research with undergraduate students and sharing tips on navigating graduate school. 

“When I got to (University of Michigan), the number one thing I wanted to do was come back here and tell students, ‘hey, you can make it, too,’ but you must be willing to put forth the effort.’ UNC Pembroke is one of the most affordable institutions for a valid, accredited four-year degree. You will not find a better-priced school for the quality education you will receive.”

During his visit, Chavis met with former professors and mentors—Drs. Robert Poage, Maria Santisteban and Bryan Sales––who were instrumental in Chavis’ decision to further his education. His research in neurobiology uses cellular electrophysiology, biochemical techniques, and high-resolution 3D microscopy to investigate membrane recycling at the synapse.

Upon graduation, Chavis, from Rowland, N.C., plans to pursue a career in an industry focused on biomedical research.