Stephanie MomeniStephanie MomeniGraduate School: Where are you from?

Stephanie Momeni: Originally I am from the small “town” of Bremen, Alabama (near Cullman).  For the last 12 years, I have been a resident of Pelham.

GS: What degree(s) did you receive and when?

SM: I completed my undergraduate in Biology in 1997 at UAB.  Then I took some time off to work.  I returned to complete a Masters of Business Administration (2006) and Masters of Science in Oral Biology (2010).  I am currently a PhD candidate in Biology.

GS: How long have you been at UAB? 

SM: I’ve been at UAB as a student off and on since 1995 and as an employee since 2000.  I guess that’s telling my age or maybe just how great I think UAB really is.

GS: What is your research?

SM: My research is focused on the epidemiological study of Streptococcus mutans and its role in the initiation and progression of severe early childhood caries (cavities) using molecular and microbiology techniques.

GS: Why did you choose UAB for your graduate studies?

SM: I have worked at UAB for several years, so it gave me an opportunity to explore several graduate study options.  UAB is world renowned for research opportunities and translational science, which provides a rich diversity of career options.  On a more personal note, my father worked here most of his career as a Master Carpenter building several of the buildings on campus so UAB just feels like home to me. 

GS: What awards or honors have you received?

SM: I have had a very lucky year in 2015.  Starting in March, I won First Place in the Basic Sciences division at the UAB Dental School’s Scholars’ Symposium which is how I was selected to attend the Hinman Student Research Symposium.  In April my paper entitled “Mutans Streptococci Enumeration and Genotype Selection using Different Bacitracin-containing Media “ won the Association for Southeastern Biologists’ Student Research Award at the regional meeting in Chattanooga, TN.  At the Hinman Student Research Symposium, I was honored to win the American Association for Dental Research (AADR) National Student Research Group (NSRG) President’s Award for my oral presentation.  Finally at the Southeastern Branch of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) my presentation won first place in the Graduate Oral Presentations.  I am very grateful for all of this support.  It is very encouraging that others are interested in our lab’s research.

GS: What has been your most rewarding experience at UAB?

SM: The opportunities and support have been outstanding.   I don’t think I would have returned to my love of school without the support of my department, several fabulous mentors and the many student and residents I have had the opportunity to work with over the years.

GS: Who was your greatest influence here at UAB and why?

SM: Wow.  That’s a really hard question.  I have been here for several years so there are many people that have been instrumental in influencing my career.  As a student, Dr. Bej (Biology and co-mentor) was very inspiring; especially in helping me to decide the kind of professor I would like to be.  Dr. John Ruby (Pediatric Dentistry, retired) was instrumental in my return to graduate studies.  It was his recommendation 8 years ago that got me involved in the project with Dr. Noel Childers (Pediatric Dentistry and co-mentor) that was the foundation of my research.   Dr. Childers has been my touchstone for my Masters and PhD work.  He has helped me realize the kind of mentor and Principle Investigator I want to be.    

GS: What is your motivation in your academics/research?

SM: I always wanted a career that would allow me to continue to grow and learn, so academia is the perfect fit.  I love giving back through mentoring just as others have so generously given, and continue to give, to me.

GS: What are your plans after graduating and for the future?

SM: I am applying for a post-doctoral position that will allow me to continue my research here at UAB because we have one of the largest repositories of S. mutans in the world.  There are other great opportunities within UAB I want to explore including microbiome, whole genome sequencing and metabolomics, all of which can expand my skills to further understand and contribute to my field.  I’m interested in expanding to investigate the role of oral bacteria, especially S. mutans, in overall human health.

GS: What advice would you offer to other graduate students?

SM: Get out of the lab to network every chance you can get.  My MBA and my previous experience with Alpha Kappa Psi Business fraternity really helped me to get out of my shell and develop my networking skills, which have been very important to my career path.  Through networking and peer mentoring I was able to learn about meetings, resources, and untapped future opportunities.  I think these days it’s not enough to just do research; graduate student need to have a balanced portfolio (e.g. the science, the skills, the connections, the resources, the awards, and the community commitment), particularly if they are interested in continuing on to a career in academia or with privately funded businesses.  Networking can help you achieve that balance.