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Recent PhD graduate puts it all together with research

CU Pharmacy alumna applies Toxicology degree to everyday life

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Written by Lauren Wise on December 19, 2020

Six graduates were recently conferred their degrees from the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences through the CU Anschutz Graduate Program during the fall 2020 Commencement, Saturday, Dec 12. Philanthropic Advisor Lauren Wise had a chance to speak with one of the graduates, Reena Berman, about her experience pursuing her PhD in Toxicology. Here’s how Reena responded to the questions:

Tell me about your career and why you chose this career path.
I’m a Senior Engineer at Novartis Gene Therapies in Longmont. I'm on the Manufacturing, Science and Technology team where I work with the science behind drug manufacturing. I knew I wanted to work in industry and apply what I learned in the Molecular Toxicology program in a different area. Toxicology is a really diverse field and a strong toxicology background sets you up to understand different systems and how everything comes together.

For my thesis, I researched how toxic desert dust from warzones contributes to lung disease in soldiers returning from deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq. I like helping people and populations in need and for my thesis, this was soldiers returning home sick after tours of duty. Now at Novartis Gene Therapies, I am working with a drug for a rare disease in children, which again helps to better people in need. I like to have that goal in everything.

Dog in bandana

Reena credits dog Max for getting her through the PhD program.


Tell me about your student experience at CU.
I loved being a student. There is such a strong network of great professors and students throughout the whole program and the comradery was special. No one is out to get each other. Everyone wanted to help you out – some friends in the program will be my friends forever. Most time was spent in class during the first year and that gave us great exposure to the faculty and resources at CU. This decreased over time as you started rotating through the labs, especially for me because I did my thesis research at National Jewish Health. As you dive head-on into the lab work, you begin to see people less but it’s a small enough program where you still get to know the new students.

What inspired you to attend CU?
I moved to Colorado in 2013 to be with my now-husband who came out here to go to CU Boulder. We loved Colorado, the atmosphere, lifestyle, the mountains. We wanted to stay and I wanted to be a toxicologist. 

Tell me about your most proud professional moment.
My first grad school paper made it on the cover of the journal it was published in and got a special Editor’s Highlight blurb. It was the first time a paper I wrote made the cover. My mom printed it out. It’s so cool to see other people say your research is important.


Tell me about your inspiration for wanting to stay connected with CU as an alumna.

I tried really hard to be involved in the program over all 4 years. In college, I wasn’t involved in much. In the CU Molecular Toxicology program, I helped with recruitment every year, meeting the next group of graduate students. In my second year of the program, I had two mentees. I became especially close friends with one mentee. A lot of times people get lost because graduate school can be really stressful. I had Stefanos Aivazidis (Class of 2019) as a mentor to look up to. I could ask him anything. There were no stupid questions. I benefited from him and I wanted to be available to help the next generation. I finished the program six or seven months ago and people are still asking me for help. The scientists the CU Pharmaceutical Sciences and Toxicology program produce are great and if we can keep them in Colorado that’s even better. I had people looking out for me and I wanted to be that for the next group that comes through these programs.

What do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy hiking with my husband and our dog. Road biking has become a new hobby during the quarantine.

Congratulations, Reena! Job well done. Your alma mater looks forward to staying in touch.

Topics: Alumni