Student life

Student life

As a graduate student in the Oral Health Research program you will get to mix and work with students from a variety of programs at VCU. We have a diverse community in the VCU Philips Institute for Oral Health; your lab colleague might be an M.D./Ph.D. student or a graduate student from another school. This will help you build a strong peer network for your future career.  Wherever they are from, our students create a sense of community by bringing a strong work ethic and social camaraderie to everyday life at the Philips Institute.

Aside from social activities, our students regularly get together to discuss their research at our monthly Research in Progress meetings, a series of informal presentations by graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. These meetings are a forum for open discussions on troubleshooting scientific problems and discussing latest results.

Journal club topics are linked to the Philips Institute invited seminar series. Following the seminars, students have lunch with the invited speakers where they can discuss their research and get career advice.

At our annual Research Day in April our graduate students present their work in poster format and compete for the “Best Poster Presentation Award”. This award come with a trophy, a monetary prize and support to travel to a conference of their choice.

Current students in the Oral Health Research Ph.D.

Class entering 2016


Apurva Tadimari Prabhakar

I am a foreign trained dentist from India, with a Masters in oral biology from University of Louisville School of Dentistry. Even from the initial days of my dental school, the field of dental research mesmerized me. I was always pulled towards the vast opportunities one would be exposed to by getting involved in research, the mysteries one would unfold by this, for the betterment of the general health. Obtaining a Ph.D. in oral health research, will play an indispensable role in my search to be a clinician-researcher. This program provides me with a great opportunity to be trained by the best researchers in their field. In the future, I would like to specialize in Clinical Periodontics while being actively engaged in periodontal research. I believe in the saying that, “Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; Without motivation, capacity is impotent; Without capacity, understanding is limited; Without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; Without knowledge, experience is blind”.


Tanya Marie Puccio

I grew up in Moorpark, California and came to the East Coast for my undergraduate studies at Virginia Wesleyan College. At VWC, I played Division III field hockey and received a double major in Biology and Hispanic Studies with a minor in Chemistry. My experiences in undergraduate research and passion for microbiology led me to pursue my Ph.D. in Dr. Todd Kitten’s lab at the Philips Institute for Oral Health Research. I am an active member of the Women in Science and Microbiology Student Groups at VCU. I hope to pursue a career in microbiology research. I live in Norfolk, VA with my husband and our two pitbulls.


Erin Catalina Mooney

I grew up in State College, PA and went to Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA.  At Dickinson I played Division III soccer and received my Bachelor of Science in Biology.  After college I worked as both a research assistant at University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine and an endodontic assistant. My love of the oral health field led me to pursue a Ph.D. in Oral Health Research. After I get my Ph.D., I would like to go to dental school. Ultimately I hope to get a position at an academic institute combining my love of dentistry and desire for research.  I enjoy spending time with my family, playing soccer and being active.


Kanika Sharma

I earned my Bachelor and Master Degrees in Bioinformatics at VCU. I received a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship during my undergraduate degree. The research for my master’s thesis identified dysregulated microRNAs that contributed to the progression and metastasis of prostate cancer. Following my masters I worked as a Research Assistant at the Massey Cancer Center at VCU, on determining chemotherapeutic drug treatment options, by understanding the key proteins and mechanisms involved in the B-cell lymphoma 2-family regulated apoptotic pathway, in small cell lung cancer and head and neck cancer. During my Ph.D., I would like to combine both computational and experimental research. I the future I would like to expand my research experience at a biotechnology company with a focus on translating research into products to improve cancer treatments.

Class entering 2017

Chris Pham

Chris Pham

I grew up in Irvine, California, and went to the University of Southern California for my undergraduate studies. I received my Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience at USC. After graduating from USC, I enrolled in a post-baccalaureate program at VCU and transferred into the master’s program in the School of Medicine. I graduated with a Master of Science in Biochemistry under the guidance of Dr. Janina P. Lewis. My experience during my master’s led me to pursue a Ph.D. in Oral Health Research. I believe this program will give me the experience and training I need for my career in science and research. Outside of research, I have a passion for food, photography, music, and bodybuilding.

Richard Kurupi

Richard Kurupi

I earned my master’s in biological sciences from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. After earning my degree, I worked as research assistant at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (NIBR) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and then at Vanderbilt University in Nashville,  Tennessee . During my Ph.D., I will be working on mechanisms of acquired resistance to targeted cancer therapeutics and how it can be overcome by combinational targeted therapeutics. My long-term career objective is to pursue a career in translational oncology in the pharmaceutical industry.