Student life

Student life [View Image]

As a graduate student in the Oral Health Research program you will get to mix and work with students from a variety of programs at VCU. We have a diverse community in the VCU Philips Institute for Oral Health; your lab colleague might be an M.D./Ph.D. student or a graduate student from another school. This will help you build a strong peer network for your future career.  Wherever they are from, our students create a sense of community by bringing a strong work ethic and social camaraderie to everyday life at the Philips Institute.

Aside from social activities, our students regularly get together to discuss their research at our monthly Research in Progress meetings, a series of informal presentations by graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. These meetings are a forum for open discussions on troubleshooting scientific problems and discussing latest results.

Journal club topics are linked to the Philips Institute invited seminar series. Following the seminars, students have lunch with the invited speakers where they can discuss their research and get career advice.

At our annual Research Day in April our graduate students present their work in poster format and compete for the “Best Poster Presentation Award”. This award come with a trophy, a monetary prize and support to travel to a conference of their choice.

Current students in the Oral Health Research Ph.D.

Class entering 2016

Prabhakar [View Image]

Apurva Tadimari Prabhakar

I am a foreign trained dentist from India, with a Masters in oral biology from University of Louisville School of Dentistry. Even from the initial days of my dental school, the field of dental research mesmerized me. I was always pulled towards the vast opportunities one would be exposed to by getting involved in research, the mysteries one would unfold by this, for the betterment of the general health. Obtaining a Ph.D. in oral health research, will play an indispensable role in my search to be a clinician-researcher. This program provides me with a great opportunity to be trained by the best researchers in their field. In the future, I would like to specialize in Clinical Periodontics while being actively engaged in periodontal research. I believe in the saying that, “Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; Without motivation, capacity is impotent; Without capacity, understanding is limited; Without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; Without knowledge, experience is blind”.

Tanya Marie Puccio

I grew up in Moorpark, California and came to the East Coast for my undergraduate studies at Virginia Wesleyan College. At VWC, I played Division III field hockey and received a double major in Biology and Hispanic Studies with a minor in Chemistry. My experiences in undergraduate research and passion for microbiology led me to pursue my Ph.D. in Dr. Todd Kitten’s lab at the Philips Institute for Oral Health Research. I am an active member of the Women in Science and Microbiology Student Groups at VCU. I hope to pursue a career in microbiology research.

Erin Catalina Mooney

I grew up in State College, PA and went to Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA.  At Dickinson I played Division III soccer and received my Bachelor of Science in Biology.  After college I worked as both a research assistant at University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine and an endodontic assistant. My love of the oral health field led me to pursue a Ph.D. in Oral Health Research. After I get my Ph.D., I would like to go to dental school. Ultimately I hope to get a position at an academic institute combining my love of dentistry and desire for research.  I enjoy spending time with my family, playing soccer and being active.

Class entering 2017

Chris Pham [View Image]

Chris Pham

I grew up in Irvine, California, and went to the University of Southern California for my undergraduate studies. I received my Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience at USC. After graduating from USC, I enrolled in a post-baccalaureate program at VCU and transferred into the master’s program in the School of Medicine. I graduated with a Master of Science in Biochemistry under the guidance of Dr. Janina P. Lewis. My experience during my master’s led me to pursue a Ph.D. in Oral Health Research. I believe this program will give me the experience and training I need for my career in science and research. Outside of research, I have a passion for food, photography, music, and bodybuilding.

Richard Kurupi [View Image]

Richard Kurupi

I earned my master’s in biological sciences from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. After earning my degree, I worked as research assistant at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (NIBR) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and then at Vanderbilt University in Nashville,  Tennessee . During my Ph.D., I will be working on mechanisms of acquired resistance to targeted cancer therapeutics and how it can be overcome by combinational targeted therapeutics. My long-term career objective is to pursue a career in translational oncology in the pharmaceutical industry.

Class entering 2018

Christian Fontan

I grew up in Leesburg, Virginia and attended the College of William and Mary, where I received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. My undergraduate research focused on synthesis and incorporation of unnatural amino acids into proteins for stabilization with to medical and industrial applications. I am currently pursuing a combined MD/PhD here at VCU. The knowledge and experience gained while pursuing a PhD will provide me with a unique scientific and holistic perspective, allowing me to better understand health as a whole and provide the best care possible as a future clinician.  In my off time, I enjoy running and exploring the rich food culture that Richmond has to offer.

Class entering 2019

Hannah Lohner

I grew up in the small town of Big Island, Virginia, and I completed my undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech. At Virginia Tech, I held several leadership positions through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and received a Bachelor of Science with a concentration in Microbiology. After completing my undergraduate studies, I worked at VCU for four years as a laboratory technician and manager for Dr. Pin-Lan Li in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the School of Medicine. During my time in Dr. Li's lab, my love for science and research grew and led me to pursue a Ph.D in Oral Health Research at the Philips Institute. I believe this program will give me the experience and training I need to excel in any future career. Outside of research, I enjoy spending time with family, hiking, fishing, playing volleyball, and singing.

Class entering 2020

Krista Powell


I earned my Bachelor's and Master degrees in Biomedical Engineering at VCU. Under the guidance of Dr. Rebecca Heise and Dr. Anthony Faber, I completed my master’s thesis research examining the role of KRAS in mechanosensing in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. During my masters, I worked as a Laboratory Technician with VCU Philips Institute for Oral Health Research focusing on targeted therapies for genetically-defined cancers, and I plan to continue this research during my Ph.D. During my free time, I enjoy hiking and kayaking. 

Febri Gunawan Sugiokto

I grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia and went to Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia for my Bachelor in Sciences in Biotechnology field. After I graduated, I worked for a medical device distributor company for one and a half years and continued to pursue my Master's degree in Microbiology and Immunology in Tzu Chi University, Taiwan and got a scholarship during my Master's degree. In VCU, I hope to join Dr. Renfeng Li's laboratory that focuses on Epstein Barr Virus. I hope I will be an expert in the Microbiology area including viruses and cancer.