Second-Year PhD Student

Molecular and Integrative Physiology

Tell us about yourself!

“My name is Sierra Nance and I’m a first generation college student from Indianapolis, Indiana. I attended Winston Salem State University for my undergrad, and I’m now a 2nd year PhD student in Molecular & Integrative Physiology. I’m the oldest of eight children, so my goal has always been to set a good example for my younger siblings. Since I graduated from WSSU with a B.S. in Chemistry, two of my younger siblings have chosen to attend college, with one pursuing a graduate degree. The journey to a PhD comes with many challenges and is not designed to be easy, so it’s important to maintain a health school-life balance by investigating other things you’re passionate about. It will make those difficult times a little more bearable.”

What is your favorite thing about your current program?

“The unwavering support from faculty and staff in both academic and non-academic matters.”

What factors or interests led you to choose your current program or field?

“As a chemist, I enjoyed learning about reactions (how they occur and why). Molecular and Integrative Physiology allows me to study the reactions that occur within the body, gaining a better understanding of the underlying mechanism of human disease.”

What’s your secret for time-management and being productive?

“I have an hourly agenda book that allows me to plan my days. I also use different color pens to prioritize. Red=top priority (mostly deadlines), black=my class/lab schedule, pink=free time activities, purple=networking/prof development. Once a task is completed I give it a green check marks. Not only does this help my productivity, it reduces anxiety/stress; if it’s not on the schedule I don’t worry about it.”

How did other people help you get to where you are today?

“Dr. Morris Clarke introduced me to the concept of a PhD and how to conduct independent research. Dr. TanYa Gwathmey taught me how to effectively communicate my science, both in writing and orally. And my friends and family supported me, listened to me, and prayed with me throughout this journey.”

What’s the best advice someone gave you that you still use today?

“If it doesn’t feel right to you, then it’s not right for you.”

What is your greatest source of inspiration to keep pushing toward completing your goals?

“The reactions of excitement I receive from younger students when they learn that someone that looks like them is a real-life scientist. Knowing that I’m making a career in STEM and showing others that they can pursue a PhD too is enough inspiration for a lifetime. ”

What do you like to do in your spare time?

“Outside of being a scientist, I’m president of a minority student organization – Society of Minority Engineers and Scientists Graduate Component. Our goal is to recruit, retain, and advocate for students of color at the university and participate in outreach.”

Tell us about a challenge you ran into in your educational training and how you overcame it.

“I did not get one interview the first year or the second year I applied to graduate school. I overcame that by participating in a post-bac research program to gain more research experience and learn how to network more effectively. Through this, I learned to accept that our paths are not always linear.”

What advice would you give to an aspiring scientist?

“Do not limit yourself. Take time to figure out what it is that excites you and what you don’t like – whether it be research or hobbies. Learning as much as you can about yourself will help you find the right mentor and the perfect thesis project for you.”

Can students and trainees contact you directly?

Yes! You can contact me about anything regarding my journey to grad school or my experience at the University of Michigan. My email is