Student pharmacist Jessica Murray earns prestigious Royster Fellowship

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Lipscomb University’s College of Pharmacy Doctor of Pharmacy candidate Jessica Murray is the embodiment of the ideal student: motivated, focused, driven, humble, introspective and the only recent link between the two schools other than basketball.

Accepted into the top ranked Doctor of Pharmacy program by U.S. News 2017 Best Pharmacy Programs, Murray continued her trend of making school history as the first ever Lipscomb student to earn the prestigious Royster Fellowship from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Royster 1The Royster Society of Fellows is a prestigious interdisciplinary fellowship program within The Graduate School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The program enables UNC to attract exceptionally talented graduate students and support them with generous financial resources and unique opportunities to reach their highest level of success.

Since its inception in 1996, the name “Royster” has become synonymous with the best in graduate fellowship opportunities. More than 650 graduate students from throughout the nation and the world have gone to Carolina as members of the Royster Society of Fellows. These leaders continue to make meaningful contributions through research and real-world impact, undergraduate classroom teaching and outreach to communities across the state.

Dr. Daniel Crona, division director of graduate admissions in the division of pharmacotherapy and experimental therapeutics at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy provided insight to Murray’s achievement.

“Annually, the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy is allotted one nominee for a prestigious five-year Royster Fellowship from a highly competitive group of prospective candidates seeking matriculation into our Pharmaceutical Sciences graduate program,” he said.

“Therefore, Jessica was not only the top candidate for the Division of Pharmacotherapy and Experimental Therapeutics, she was deemed to be the top graduate student candidate for the entire Pharmaceutical Sciences program. Speaking on behalf of the entire faculty for the Division of Pharmacotherapy and Experimental Therapeutics, we are simply ecstatic to have attracted a pharmacist-scientist with such intelligence, drive, and character,” said Crona.

Murray’s Ph.D. application caught the attention of the reviewing committee for a number of reasons. “She is a pharmacist by training, and has an impressive array of research experiences during pharmacy school in clinical pharmacology. Thus, her pharmacy training, combined with her established research skills, place Jessica in a unique position to solve complex public health problems,” Crona explained.

“Jessica also comes to us with exceptional leadership skills, and a fierce desire to craft a research career focused on optimizing medications for underserved populations, as evidenced by her work with her local American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists chapter and the Grace Works charity in Nashville,” he continued.

“In her interviews at UNC, it was evident that Jessica thrives in situations that allow her to apply her creativity to tackle complex problems that require innovative solutions. Her chemistry and pharmacy background, coupled with her extensive clinical pharmacology research during her PharmD training, truly make her one of the most unique and exciting applicants we have ever recruited into our division.”

Murray’s mentor, researcher and Lipscomb assistant professor Dr. Klarissa Jackson, said the achievement has the pharmacy team excited.

“To think that she was the student selected from UNC for this fellowship is both humbling for us, but also something to really celebrate. It speaks to the caliber of student she is and our program that we can offer that kind of training that is recognized at that level. We’re very thankful,” said Jackson.

“Look at products and outcomes like our students who are doing great things. If there is ever a question about whether you should invest in Lipscomb if you’re interested, this is a clear example to invest and with God’s help, we will definitely reap the benefit of it,” said Jackson.

“Jessica is one of four students that have participated in our innovative Pharm.D.-to-Ph.D. pathway program at Lipscomb University” said Dr. Scott Akers, chair and professor of pharmaceutical sciences. “The three previous students were highly recruited into one of the top pharmacology graduate programs at Vanderbilt University and all have gone onto secure highly competitive fellowships at the national level.  Their success is one of the major factors that is starting to enhance our national reputation and make us more competitive for securing research funding.”

Murray appreciates Lipscomb. “It goes to show how well Lipscomb has prepared me for this that they chose me out of their applicant pool to put me forward for that fellowship,” said Murray. “It was a really big honor and I wasn’t expecting it.”

Murray’s desire to impact the lives of others in a positive manner spurred her interest in health related research. “I chose Lipscomb because of the pharmaceutical sciences program here. They had a brand new lab. I knew going in I wanted to do research here.”

Klarissa Hardy_petri dishJackson brought Murray on as a member of her research team, desperately in need of someone with Murray’s attributes. “Jessica is a really unique student. She’s very gifted, very intelligent, and exceptionally driven. She’s focused,” Jackson described.

Collaborating on a project with a fellow faculty member, Dr. Susan Mercer, in the midst of another research project which received a $660,000 grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH), Jackson required someone with Murray’s attributes. “I had never worked with these compounds before, so I needed a bright student who would be able to start working on a project from the ground up.”

“That’s exactly what she did,” said Jackson. The work required a disciplined and detailed approach which Murray provided. Scouring through scientific literature and papers to provide background, Murray’s initiative quickly led her to be the team’s subject matter expert.

“She reads the scientific literature at a more mature level than most students,” said Jackson. Murray’s maturity translated to the required oral presentation at the conclusion of her summer research. “She was phenomenal. Very poised, very focused, very clear in her explanation. I thought, she’s going to be outstanding.”

Making Lipscomb history for her first time, Murray became one of two students to earn the American Foundation of Pharmaceutical Education scholarship, of which only 15 are awarded nationally each year. Later, she received the American Associations of Colleges of Pharmacy Walmart Scholarship as well as invitation to attend their national conference. She also applied for, and received, a travel award to attend a conference sponsored by the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics held in Japan.

“She does her best at everything, even if it seems small,” said Jackson as evidenced by Murray’s 2017 win as best student presentation at Vanderbilt’s Neuroscience Extravaganza. Notified of the event by another faculty member with just enough time to participate, Murray presented her research on meperidine due to its effects on the central nervous system. “Jessica took the initiative to prepare for the presentation independently, and she won. She’s so modest, but she’s phenomenal,” said Jackson.

For more information on the Pharm.D. program and the Pharm.D.-to-Ph.D. pathway, click here.