PH.D. | NEUROBIOLOGY
COLLEGE OF SCIENCES
PART OF UTSA TODAY’S SERIES ON SOME OF THE NEWEST ALUMNI OF ROADRUNNER NATION
MAY 11, 2020 — A child of immigrants, Juan Morales was a newborn when his father died. And when he was 5 years old his mother died as well, leaving the boy and his two older sisters in the care of their grandmother in Edinburg, just north of the Mexico-U.S. border.
“We were very poor,” Morales said. “So there wasn’t much to do.”
Instead, Morales’ curiosity drew him outdoors into the thorny shrubs and subtropical woodlands of the nearby rural landscape.
After high school Morales, a first-generation student, completed two degrees in mathematics at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Seeking another challenge, he decided to apply his math knowledge to science.
He was fortunate enough to secure financial assistance from a RISE fellowship, a federally funded program designed to ensure that talented and motivated minority or disadvantaged students are able to obtain the experience and skills they need to succeed in research-intensive careers. The fellowship helped reduce stress on Morales and allowed him to focus on his studies.
“I chose neuroscience at UTSA. When I was younger, I was always pretty good at math and enjoyed it. It’s ironic because, in science, it’s kind of hard to know the precise answer sometimes. The brain is complex, and I can use mathematics to gain insight.”
His dedication and perseverance paid off. This month Morales receives his Ph.D. in neurobiology. While pursuing his doctorate Morales learned a lot about basal ganglia, a part of the brain essential for conscious movement and learning.
“At UTSA I acquired the skills needed to pursue a career in science by piecing together all the advice I received from mentors and colleagues,” he said.
For now, Morales is staying at UTSA as a postdoctorate associate as he contemplates a few job offers and completes his dissertation studying the resonance of brain cells.
And after the completion of his dissertation? “I’ll be moving on to new endeavors.”
The world is wide open.
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