College of Science; Graduate School

Time in chemistry lab helped Samirah Muhammed chose career path


Samirah Muhammed thought she wanted to go to pharmacy school until she had the chance to do research in a chemistry lab.

Muhammed had been around medicine all her life — not because she came from a family of physicians but because she had severe asthma as a child and spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices and hospitals. Her parents suggested she become a pharmacist.

headshot of Black woman wearing a Chemistry Graduate Student organization t-shirt.
Samirah Muhammed

She decided to major in chemistry at Xavier University of Louisiana, a school that is among the top producers of African American pharmacists. At the end of her first year, her chemistry professor asked her to do research with him. The research involved making hydrogels with hyaluronic acid for drug delivery for glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer. She was responsible for modifying the hyaluronic acid.

She decided afterward that pharmacy school wasn’t for her.

“It was less about the specific project and more about the process of working in a lab and being a researcher. I liked the research, the process of being in a lab, figuring out what the next step is. That was interesting to me,” said Muhammed.

Participating in a summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of Notre Dame sealed her decision.

“I got to see first-hand how graduate school would be and that’s why I decided graduate school versus pharmacy school,” Muhammed said. “It was the process of research.”

Now, she is a pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Clemson University. She is one of 12 doctorate students in the first cohort of the Clemson Bridge to Doctorate Graduate Fellowship program, which provides full financial support for underrepresented Ph.D. students enrolled in select programs in the Clemson College of Science or the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.

“The program gives me an extra support system. It’s like you get a built-in friend group,” Muhammed said.

Muhammed said she eventually wants to work in industry doing research.

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