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Alumni Spotlight: Tamar Carter, finding your passion

Tamar Carter_9200pWhile changing majors or career paths is commonplace in undergrad, it seems as if a student would be more certain about their trajectory when approaching graduate school.

And Tamar Carter thought she was.

She entered her tenure at the University of Florida Genetics Institute determined to study the genetics of hypertension.

“I was very excited about that,” Carter said. “It’s a subject dear to my heart, because a lot of my family members deal with hypertension.”

But, like a lot of graduate students in science, she acquired a side project. Her was about malaria. When the malaria project began progressing more quickly than the hypertension research, she transitioned to studying malaria full-time.

Her research focused on the frequency of certain malarial disorders suffered by people in Haiti. The more they knew about which disorders were more common, and how they were transmitted, the better equipped Carter’s team was to advise the government about how to organize policies aimed at helping malaria sufferers, and which drugs ought to be administered.

A few years into her doctoral program, she took a chance applying for the United Negro College Fund Dissertation Fellowship. Only 12 students a year receive the prestigious award, which is funded in cooperation with Merck.

She admired their mission, not only of increasing diversity in the biomedical research field, but also of providing financial support for research. She was also drawn to the two-year stipend of $43,000, accompanied by a $10,000 grant that covered research and educational expenses.

They had to give it to someone, right?

The summer of 2013, she found out she’d won.

“I was really excited and shocked, because I thought it was a long shot,” Carter said. “I was completely overwhelmed. It kind of showed me that I could stand on my own two feet. Part of the application was to write a proposal for a project that I wanted to do. It showed that I could be an independent researcher, and ask good questions.”

It also helped propel the remainder of her research.

“I actually got to pursue a project that I’d been wanting to do for several years, but didn’t have the financial support to do it,” Carter said. “It was exploring the genetic diversity of the parasite that causes malaria in Haiti.”

Even though she was not helping people in the way she originally intended, Carter was content that her experience at the Genetics Institute enabled her to enhance her scientific prowess, and improve the quality of health care for a group of people.

“A lot of the research that I did went and actually changed policy in that country in term of drugs that were being implemented on a human population level to treat disease,” Carter.

After receiving her doctorate this spring, Carter is on sabbatical before taking a position at University of North Carolina at Charlotte on a research team that uses genetics to identify drug-resistant strains of malaria in Ethiopia.

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