AlumniProfessor Mario Stevenson

Course studied: PhD Pharmaceutical Sciences, 1984

Position at time of writing: Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine at the University of Miami

Interesting fact: Mario was awarded Strathclyde Alumnus of the Year in 2018

Why did you choose Strathclyde?

I had an interest in molecular biology and its application to understanding interactions between cells and microbes. However, it was the PhD mentor that really drew me to Strathclyde. Dr Alan Baillie seemed to be someone I would enjoy working with and benefit from his mentorship. He took his work seriously but was very self-deprecating and down to earth. I liked that and I still gravitate to collaborators who take their work seriously but don’t take themselves too seriously. He was a great mentor. We worked together but also went for a run every lunch break and then the gym. It was the most enjoyable phase of my career.

How did the course and department prepare you for life beyond graduation?

I realised that success in the PhD was all about the environment. The department of Pharmaceutics was focused on training graduates who were job-ready; whether it be the pharmaceutical industry or academia. However, I was not a pharmacy student and was somewhat out of place with the rest of the PhD students.

However, this allowed me to delve into areas that were not originally on my radar. Although my project focused on improving ways to attack intracellular bacteria, it really evolved into a drug delivery project and the environment was great for that. More importantly, I had a great group of colleagues at various phases in their PhD studies. We socialised, we learned from each other’s mistakes and this is what a learning environment should be all about. That camaraderie is really important as one deals with the stresses of PhD studies.

Strathclyde really nurtured that environment so that it was not only an outstanding academic environment, but also a social environment that built lasting friendships.

What one piece of advice would you give to current students?

I would say that the most important thing is to enjoy the academic and social environment Strathclyde has to offer. Glasgow is a wonderful city for students. It has so much to offer – socially and academically. That means you can always venture beyond the boundaries of your research project and apply cutting edge methods to your problem."

The juxtaposition of major universities means that there is always an expert just around the corner. I went to the Beatson to use flow cytometry facilities that weren’t available in my unit. The professor there was very helpful and we got a couple of papers out of the study.

What has been your most memorable moment from your career so far?

Professor Mario Stevenson with his Alumnus of the Year award

Being Alumnus of the Year was a big deal for me and a proud moment for my mum. As a first generation college graduate, I feel privileged to have received the education – completely free, that Strathclyde gave me. I have since received other awards but none as special or personal as the Alumnus of the Year award. The University has an exceptional faculty and that mentorship generates students who can take their place at any institution in the world.

Any final points, or words of wisdom?

The PhD phase should be a time to enjoy the moment and not stress out too much about what comes next. The postdoc phase is meant to do that and set you on a focused career path. It is an experience that you will never forget and that you will always look back on with fond memories and pride. So make the best of it.