The Journey from Student to Professor
Edgar Diaz-Cruz, PhD, completed his postdoctoral training in tumor biology at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. Now an assistant professor of pharmacology at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, Diaz-Cruz says his training at Georgetown prepared him to do exactly what he loves: teaching.
“My intent was to go into a postdoctoral program that would allow me to use my chemistry background to solve problems that can help society”
“Teaching and academia have always been in the back of my mind — I always felt passionately about it. The postdoc program helped me mature to the point where I felt ready to apply for an assistant professor position,” he explains.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Diaz-Cruz says he was initially attracted to Georgetown Lombardi primarily because he knew of its strong breast cancer focus and renowned faculty. He felt the program was a natural extension of his bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Masters in pharmacognosy from the University of Puerto Rico, and his PhD in medicinal chemistry from The Ohio State University.
“My intent was to go into a postdoctoral program that would allow me to use my chemistry background to solve problems that can help society,” Diaz-Cruz says.
After getting a strong foundation in cancer during his graduate studies, Diaz-Cruz sought out a mentor with an expertise in breast cancer. He chose Priscilla Furth, MD, professor of oncology and medicine at Georgetown Lombardi. Furth’s research focuses on understanding estrogen-signaling-induced initiation and progression in breast cancer at a molecular level in order to develop strategies to reverse it.
“I knew I wanted to learn new techniques — I wanted to move what I was doing ‘in vitro’ into an ‘in vivo’ system. Dr. Furth’s ‘in vivo’ mouse models of carcinogenesis was the closest I could get to treat a living, fully functional organism,” explains Diaz-Cruz.
Diaz-Cruz says he was always interested in going into the medicinal side of chemistry to learn how to develop new therapies. “The natural products side was really interesting to me,— the ability to take a compound from a plant and turn it into a drug that could eventually hit the market.”
Under the Furth’s mentorship, Diaz-Cruz was able to collaborate on two major grants, and was successful both times.
“Dr. Furth was great,—I give her all the credit in the world. She allowed me to do what I really wanted to do. I started working with her on her projects and she allowed me to spread my wings and go.”
Under the direction of Dr. Furth and Anna Riegel, PhD, professor of oncology and pharmacology, Diaz-Cruz was able to teach a tumor biology class for the MS/PhD program. “It allowed me to develop my teaching portfolio at a graduate level, which made me a more confident candidate when applying for teaching positions.”
“The postdoc program allowed me to mature. I now know how it feels to write a grant, get rejected and get funding. It allowed me to see that side of academia,” he says.
Lauren Wolkoff and Alaina Farrish
Georgetown Lombardi Communications