Commencement Spotlight: Joshua Silva

Meet Class of 2021 Trojan Joshua Silva, recipient of the 2021 USC PhD Achievement Award. Here, he talks about his path to pursuing a PhD in clinical and experimental therapeutics, his passion for promoting diversity within the sciences and the biggest lesson he’s learned from his faculty advisor, Dr. Daryl L. Davies. He also gives advice to students looking to follow in his footsteps: “What you want to do in life may change over time.”

What originally attracted you to your field?

My undergraduate and master’s research training in metabolic and genetic disorders greatly guided my desire to better understand the molecular mechanisms for these disorders and identify molecular targets. Naturally, these research experiences and the mentorship that I received certainly played a hand in my wanting to pursue these goals even further. However, it was not until I was exposed to several USC School of Pharmacy talks as an master’s student at CSU Los Angeles, that I came to fully realize my desire to pursue a PhD in clinical and experimental therapeutics where I am able to combine my interest in studying the molecular mechanisms of pathology and translate it for the benefit of human health. As I progressed in my education here at USC, I then became interested in obtaining a dual M.S. degree in management of drug development. I realized the the regulatory aspects of drug development would not only strengthen my foundation and understanding but also benefit my ongoing and future research career in identifying and developing novel therapeutics.

How did you come to the decision to pursue your degree at USC?

USC has always been one of my top choices for the exciting research opportunities that take place not only in the school but in schools across the university. Prior to coming to USC, I was part of fellowship programs that provided mentorship and opportunities to interact with many faculty members of various institutions. With these opportunities, I would always find myself impressed with the faculty and students here. This pride remains to this day, and I am sincerely happy to have made the choice to pursue my degrees here and be a part of the Trojan Family.

You’re the recipient of the 2021 USC PhD Achievement Award. What does it feel like to be recognized by the School and university? What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your advisor, Dr. Daryl L. Davies?

It is a tremendous honor to be recognized by the School and university, and I am sincerely overwhelmed by the recognition. I would not be in this position if not for my advisor, Dr. Daryl L. Davies, my co-advisors, and of course, the support I received from my wife and family.

The greatest lesson I have learned from Dr. Davies is to get used to being uncomfortable and take advantage of doing something different. With his support, I have actively pushed myself into new roles, research, and experiences that have allowed me to strengthen many of my weaknesses and better develop my skill set. I will continue living that lesson in my career and advise others to do the same.

You’ve served as the scientific coordinator of the USC Science, Technology and Research (STAR) program. Why is it important to you to promote diversity within the sciences?

I have had the honor to serve not only as a student mentor through USC STAR but also as the program’s scientific coordinator this past year. Promoting diversity within the sciences is essential for me because I would not have had the privilege to obtain my PhD without the support I have received from National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) diversity training programs. Like many others, I have had to grapple with the decision to either pursue my education or drop everything to take care of immediate concerns. Yet, I was fortunate enough to benefit from the support of these programs that gap these obstacles and promote minority success within the STEM fields. These programs supported my accomplishments, and it is my goal to continue to be involved in these programs and help others achieve their goals. The ideas that different backgrounds bring to science are critical in addressing scientific questions that require unique inputs and allow for advancements that more closely align with the general population.

Can you tell us about your post-graduation plans? What are you most looking forward to?

I will be the principal medical writer & lead for Omni Tech Medical, a pharmaceutical/biotech learning and development organization. I am very excited to bring my experience to this position and be involved in much of the development, training, and clinical dissemination for pharmaceutical companies, and potentially expand my role and opportunities in the future.

Do you have any advice to the students who are following in your footsteps? Is there anything else you’d like to share?

What you want to do in life may change over time. There are many opportunities out there that you might find yourself interested in as you develop professionally. I did not think I would be completing a PhD in clinical and experimental therapeutics, let alone an M.S. in management of drug development. I had never considered these fields and developed interest in them near the end of my M.S. degree in biological science at CSU Los Angeles, and I am pleased with the outcome of it all. So do not feel rushed to know exactly what you intend to do early on, either academically or professionally, as this will likely develop as you continue your education and gather experience.