The last five and a half years of her life have been transformative for Nikki Zabik, who walked across the Wayne State University Fieldhouse stage Saturday to receive her doctoral degree and hood at the university’s Fall 2022 Commencement Ceremony.
“I know a lot of other people who finish their Ph.D. feel this way – like a totally different person,” Zabik said. “I felt pretty aimless before graduate school; I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do more than what I was doing, and I knew that I wanted to help people who were suffering. This meant a lot of self-work and self-discipline to make it through graduate school. This meant a personal transformation for me, but it also ended up helping me finish work that, I believe, positively impacts people.”
Zabik received her degree from the WSU School of Medicine’s Translational Neuroscience Program. Nearly two months earlier, on Oct. 20, she was defending her dissertation, “Neural and Behavioral Mechanisms of PTSD: Impact of endocannabinoid modulation on extinction recall and avoidance behaviors.” With it, she found her calling. She is headed to a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where she will work with adults in early alcohol use recovery.
“I am really proud of myself and am really thankful for all the support from my family, friends and mentors. It feels like the longest experience of my life, but it also feels like I just started yesterday,” she said.
Her dissertation mentors are School of Medicine Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences Mark Greenwald, Ph.D., and Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice Christine Rabinak, Ph.D.
“Wayne State, and specifically the Translational Neuroscience Program, is incredibly unique and gave me numerous career and training opportunities,” Zabik said. “I knew I would get the best training for my career here, where I could interact with preclinical and clinical researchers who were all working toward the same goal. Translational science is really important to me. I need to know that what I do makes an impact on people. It gives my work purpose. The program really pushed the concept of translation in everything we did. The program expectations are fairly demanding, too, which can deter many people. But I like feeling challenged, so I knew it would be the best option for me. Plus, I love Detroit and everything it has to offer – live music any day of the week, some of the best food (and pizza, specifically) in the country, and the people here are genuinely kind.”
Zabik is one of the 59 graduate students who earned master’s and doctoral degrees from the WSU School of Medicine at the 2 p.m. graduation ceremony. Another School of Medicine student, Master of Public Health candidate Dana Holger, attended the ceremony virtually. Holger, Pharm.D., is a postdoctoral research fellow focused on pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics and health outcomes in the Anti-Infective Research Laboratory at WSU’s Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. The Minnesota native will begin her career as an assistant professor of Pharmacy Practice at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. She completed a post-graduate year Pharmacy residency at Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines, Fla., before joining WSU as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Professor of Pharmacy Practice Michael Rybak, Pharm.D., M.P.H., Ph.D. She concurrently attended the Master of Public Health program here for two years.
“I've been interested in public health science since entering pharmacy school, so I joined the Master of Public Health program with the idea of combining public health perspectives with pharmacy practice research. I hope to improve infectious disease health outcomes in vulnerable populations, specifically in south Florida,” she said. “I feel grateful and excited about the possibilities of applying what I've learned in the field of pharmacy practice.”
At the ceremony, School of Medicine Professor and Chair of Internal Medicine M. Safwan Badr, M.D., and Professor of Molecular Medicine and of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology Kezhong Zhang, Ph.D., both members of the WSU Academy of Scholars, served as bearers of the Academic Mace of WSU. The mace is a ceremonial scepter that relates to the ancient maces used by universities worldwide.
Graduates from the WSU School of Medicine eligible to earn degrees at the Fall 2022 Commencement included:
MASTER OF PUBLIC HEALTH
MASTER OF SCIENCE
MASTER OF SCIENCE IN BASIC MEDICAL SCIENCES
Kenneth Skoug IV
MASTER OF SCIENCE IN MEDICAL RESEARCH
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
Dissertation: “Deconstructing Brown Adipocyte Neogenesis in Brown and White Adipose Tissue.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor James Granneman (Molecular Genetics and Genomics)
Dissertation: “Novel Interaction of CXCR4 and PI4KIIIα in Prostate Cancer.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Sreenivasa Chinni (Pathology)
Dissertation: “Persistent Transcriptomic Effects of Brief Developmental Exposure to Environmental Contaminants.” Dissertation Advisors: Professors Tracie Baker and Sokol Todi (Pharmacology)
Dissertation: “Development of a Zebrafish Model for the Study of Vibrio Cholerae Colonization, Pathogenesis, and Transmission.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Jeffrey Withey (Immunology and Microbiology)
Dissertation: “How the Structural Uniqueness Makes SMYD Proteins so Special.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Zhe Yang (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology)
Dissertation: “Myelin and Vision Defects Associated With a Novel Mutation in the Endolysosomal Protein Vps11.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Ryan Thummel (Anatomy and Cell Biology)
Dissertation: “The Regulation of Proinsulin Folding by Er Co-Chaperones in Pancreatic Beta Cells.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Xuequn Chen (Physiology)
Dissertation: “Role Of Aldehyde Dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) in the Decrease in Coronary Angiogenesis in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Identifying Novel Signaling Pathways.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Suresh Palaniyandi (Physiology)
Dissertation: “Investigation of Protein and Drug Interactions to Advance a Novel Therapy for Prostate Cancer that Targets the Androgen Receptor-ELK1 Axis.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Manohar Ratnam (Cancer Biology)
Dissertation: “Neural and Behavioral Mechanisms of PTSD: Impact of Endocannabinoid Modulation on Extinction Recall and Avoidance Behaviors.” Dissertation Advisors: Professors Christine Rabinak and Mark Greenwald (Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences)