Ph.D. Student Overcomes Pandemic’s Challenges to Seize Success

December 21, 2020 | Graduate News, News, UToday, Advancement, Alumni, Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
By Jon Meerdink

Like many, Austin Horton’s plans for 2020 were upended by the spread of COVID-19. As he prepared to defend his doctoral thesis, he found himself forced to navigate a sudden change of plans.

“I had some job offers that I was trying to work on and line up with other startups in the Toledo area, and they fell through because of the pandemic,” Horton said. “I had to scramble and start-up my job hunt again on short notice because of that.”

Graduation Cap

CELEBRATING SUCCESS: During this time when we cannot come together to celebrate our graduates, UToledo is recognizing the Class of 2020 with a series of feature stories on students who received their degrees during our Dec. 6 virtual commencement ceremony.

His desire to help people steered him to The University of Toledo to pursue his Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry and defined his educational journey here.

“I wanted to be able to use the chemistry knowledge that I had from my undergraduate courses to make things that made a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “Instead of just running reactions in a lab and making miscellaneous compounds because they’re interesting in an academic sense, I wanted to make things that benefit people, so that’s why I chose medicinal chemistry to study.”

Throughout his time as a Rocket, Horton’s work extended well beyond the classroom, as he co-authored multiple research papers while he pursued business training for his post-doctoral career. His time at UToledo also included significant efforts in the entrepreneurial space, a trait that Dr. Isaac Schiefer, Horton’s faculty advisor and associate professor in UToledo’s Department of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry, said made Horton stand out.

“He submitted multiple small business grant applications while a grad student and participated in the iCorps program,” Schiefer said. “Future students should consider Austin as an example of stepping outside of the basic science realm and receiving training in small business development for translational science.”

Horton’s multifaceted approach may have been what helped him to the finish line, even amid the pandemic. Faced with an abrupt job-search reorganization, Horton said adjusting to life during the pandemic had a positive outcome for him.

“I was actually in one of the better positions in my coursework here to go remote because I had all of my data gathered for my thesis, it just came down more to writing it,” he said. “The pandemic and the shutdown forced me to write my thesis.”


Having defended that thesis and graduating, Horton landed a job as a medical writer at Cello Health Communications in Pennsylvania, an opportunity to pair his work in the classroom with the business acumen he developed outside of it.

“UToledo gave me the resources and opportunity to pursue my research and advance my career, and the connections that I’ve made with the faculty members here and the business community in Toledo really positioned me well to enter the career that I’ve ultimately found a job offer for.”

But even if the resources paved the way for Horton’s post-UToledo success, his advisor says there’s more to it than that. Schiefer said it took a special student to pull off what Horton did at the University — pandemic or otherwise.

“Austin is a rare and exceptional student,” he said. “Few other students could have handled such a workload.”

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