International PhD student’s educational journey culminates at UAB

Green will graduate with his doctoral degree in biology from UAB on Dec. 8.

inside 2 George Green 231204 002 4867Photography: Andrea MabryComing to the University of Alabama at Birmingham for education has been a part of a larger life journey for international student George Green.

The 29-year-old native of Hertfordshire, England, came to the United States in 2013 to pursue tennis on scholarship at a university in South Carolina. He was the first in his family to travel abroad for higher education.

“My interest in biology came from my love of tennis,” Green said. “I developed a keen interest in strength and nutrition. One of my professors was very passionate about biology, and he offered me the opportunity to do some research. From that point on, I was obsessed.”

Green’s professor was a UAB alumnus who introduced him to the thought of one day coming to UAB.

After returning to England in 2016, Green worked in a medically supervised weight-loss clinic in England.

“I always knew I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. eventually, but interacting daily with doctorally prepared individuals reinforced this desire,” Green said. “I noticed gaps in information in the weight loss field, but soon realized that I needed more letters behind my name to have credibility and make an impact.”

Green returned to the United States in 2019 and enrolled at UAB.

“I gave up everything I had to come to UAB,” Green said. “However, I knew this was something that I wanted to do no matter the personal fears and doubts I had.”

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Green’s doctoral research focused on the relationship between the microbiome and nutrition. Green used the Danio rerio model, or zebrafish, to examine how nutrition affects the microbial life inside all of us.

Green acknowledges Asim Bej, Ph.D., and Stephen Watts, Ph.D., as two very important mentors in his UAB experience.

“Those two have been unbelievable, and I am very grateful,” Green said. “That support system was probably the best that any student entering a Ph.D. program could even think to ask for.”

Green discussed the initial challenges he faced in the program.

“Starting my Ph.D., I felt behind being a little older than my peers, and it was overwhelming feeling not as intelligent as the people around me,” Green said. “But now I’m leaving this program with eight research publications and three prepared to submit, which serves as a reminder of the quality of UAB’s education.”

inside George Green and Avery Bechthold 231204 002 4891Photography: Andrea MabryIn addition to completing his program this semester, Green will be sharing the UAB stage with his partner, Avery Bechthold. Bechthold started at UAB a year after Green, but both coincidentally completed their programs to graduate this semester. Bechthold will be obtaining her doctorate in nursing.

“Avery was one of the driving forces behind my getting my Ph.D.,” Green said. “I didn’t think I was good enough to even pursue the program; but after her encouragement and meeting with Dr. Watts and Dr. Bej, coming to UAB became a reality for me.”

Green and Bechthold defended their dissertations in the same week, which Green described as the most impactful moment of his graduate experience.

“My defense was extremely packed. It was a room full of people who supported me along this journey,” Green said. “I never thought I’d get here, and I spent so many years of my life feeling behind and doubting myself. But it was in that moment I realized I was right where I needed to be. I couldn’t even make it through my thank you slides I was so happy and overwhelmed with tears.”

Green will graduate with his doctorate in biology Dec. 8. In January, he will begin a postdoctoral scholar position within the UAB Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology under the mentorship of Braden McFarland, Ph.D. Green will apply his research and knowledge on the microbiome to ideally improve health outcomes for individuals with brain cancer.