In recognition of the 10-year anniversary of the Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences degree at the UGA College of Pharmacy, we present a feature on a typical student in the program. More details about the BSPS program and the anniversary celebration are forthcoming in a subsequent issue of the UGA Script. Enjoy this story and the enthusiasm of Tucker Lesperance. He will exceed your expectations!
Simply put, Tucker Lesperance is the real deal.
A senior in the Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences (BSPS) program at the College of Pharmacy, the undergraduate student, who hails from Cumming, Ga., says he came to UGA because his high schoolteachers were alumni and encouraged him to do so. Perhaps even greater motivators were the Zell Miller state scholarship, financial support from his parents, various part time jobs available at UGA, and cheap rent available in Athens ,which allowed his education to be affordable. With all these factors, he will graduate debt free in May 2024. “Graduating debt-free was a big goal for me and a major reason I went to UGA,” said Lesperance proudly.
He didn’t start out at UGA Pharmacy, however. Originally, Lesperance was a Chemical Engineering major at Georgia, but he didn’t like the engineering curriculum. “The idea of creating new drugs became a fascinating concept to me as it is a way to use chemistry to help people directly.” Lesperance ran into a high school friend, Sarah Gruschow, on campus one day, and she told him about her major, which was in Pharmaceutical Sciences. Thanks to Sarah’s convincing, Lesperance investigated BSPS, and the rest, as they say, is history.
His passion for drug discovery…admiration for mentors…and the bonding of classmates has allowed Lesperance to evolve into a true enthusiast for BSPS – and has led him towards a career path as a physician. In a recent Q&A interview, the affable Lesperance shared his story and why he encourages incoming students with like interests to “…really consider…” the College of Pharmacy’s BSPS degree.
Describe your feelings about the BSPS program and UGA.
I can’t recommend UGA and my degree program enough. UGA is a very affordable college for Georgia students, and I have had a great experience. The BSPS program is uniquely tight-knit and has a lot of mentors that have shaped my learning and research experiences, along with my thoughts on my future career. The group of 30 classmates all taking classes together semester- after-semester helps to develop friendships with peers as well as mentorships with teachers that is hard to do in a 100+ person classroom. I believe the courses taught in the BSPS program also are very diverse and help narrow down what your career path could be if you have a general interest in chemistry, biology, or health-related studies. For example, taking Human Physiology PMCY 3000 started my interest in the Pre–Med Pathway and brought me to my career plans I have today.
What recommendations can you offer an incoming student ?
I feel like it’s definitely worth it to talk to some teachers from the BSPS program before you start pharmacy courses to get an idea of what you would like from a pharmaceutical sciences program – and then start to explore experiences from there. Pharmaceutical Sciences is a uncommon major, so it is hard to look up advice online about it. There are so many paths to go down that it was very overwhelming without the great guidance I got from my BSPS mentors. You can be Pre-PharmD, Pre-Med, Pre-PA, Pharmaceutical Scientist in the BS/MS program, Regulatory Science specialist in the BS/MS program, and even get a PhD so as you can see there are many possibilities to branch out from just the BS.
What are your career aspirations?
I am currently Pre-Med and hope to become a doctor one day. I didn’t initially come to college on this path, but in my junior year I had a conversation with Dr. Singh Rekhi, BSPS program director, about career paths and what I really wanted out of a career. Since then, I have been taking steps towards this path and plan to take two gap years to gain service hours, clinical employment, possibly as a CRC, and take the MCAT (medical school entry exam). My dream school is Emory University, right here in Georgia!
Tell us about your favorite classes.
My favorite classes have been Human Physiology PMCY 3000, Pharmacology PMCY 3800, and O-Chem 2. These classes were extremely difficult but taught me things that fascinated me. Learning in-depth knowledge about synthetic organic chemistry was really interesting, as it was, honestly, the reason I joined the major in the first place – to learn more about chemistry. Much of what I learned in O-Chem 1 & 2 I use every day in the research lab I’m in with Dr. Uma Singh, Assistant Research Scientist and Lecturer. I loved Physiology and Pharmacology as they were the classes that brought my interest towards Pre-Med. The human body and its function are mind boggling topics that I found challenging and enjoyable. Far from the memorization of static pieces in anatomy – physiology and pharmacology focus on how the processes of the body work and also how drugs we make change its function for the better.
What do you do in the College’s laboratory?
In Dr. Singh’s lab I do drug discovery research. I synthesize molecules that have not been created before and then send them to biologists to have them tested for activity against certain diseases that we believe may have a chance of being treated by these molecules. The synthesis of these molecules involves running reactions, purifying intermediates and products through column chromatography and other means and checking the identity and purity of intermediates or products through NMR and Mass Spectroscopy. The main reason I decided to work for Dr. Singh’s Lab was because of my major interest in chemistry. The focus in this lab is drug discovery through chemical synthesis, which was my interest in the beginning. Dr. Singh seemed to be very interested in helping me learn as long as I intended to work for a period after training. I felt comforted that I wasn’t going to just be thrown in without research experience and expected to know what I was doing. I must admit, I also liked the view out the lab windows! You can see Snelling Dining Hall and the Trial Gardens from my desk!
What opportunities has the College of Pharmacy and UGA offered you?
I have had plenty of opportunities outside of the classroom in the BSPS program. When I first started to determine if I had an interest in research, I talked to many professors over email and some in person. I found the UGA Mentor Program to be a big help to getting into the door in Dr. Singh’s lab, where I currently do research. Through the UGA Mentor Program, I was able to talk to an actual alumnus of UGA who had gotten the Double Dawgs Master’s Degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences/Pharmacy, and I asked them what she did during her job to determine if I would enjoy it. She was also able to recommend me to Dr. Singh which helped me join the lab. Before I worked in the research lab with Dr. Singh, I actually got to shadow a master’s student who was working on a project that involving spray drying, and thus this aspect of formulation was introduced to me earlier than most BSPS students due to seeking out this experience. Once I got into Dr. Singh’s lab there were many opportunities available to me. I was in the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities(CURO) Summer Fellowship, which required me to work on a project independently – and then present a poster at the end of the summer and the spring of the following year. CURO is an ongoing way of both improving research skills as well as presentation skills, including the ability to present information discovered in a lab, in front of a general or experienced audience. There are many opportunities through CURO; you can talk to peers who also are doing research in your same field and they also have assistance and information about getting into grad school and doing research there.
Who are your UGA mentors?
I would say my main mentors so far at the College of Pharmacy have been Dr. Singh and Dr. Rekhi. I started talking to Dr. Rekhi during my junior year, because I was really not sure about what I wanted my career path to be. I was interested in being a pharmaceutical scientist, but this appeared to be a very niche career, and I couldn’t find much online about what that would be like. I also had an interest in medicine but was worried that my poor performance during COVID in my freshman year would prevent me from getting into medical school. Through Dr. Singh’s guidance I was able to explore both the research involved in pharmaceutical science work and also got motivation to not give up on my interest in working in medicine. With this motivation, I’ve been able to keep my semester GPA above 3.8 ever since the beginning of my junior year.
Dr. Singh has been a great mentor as I explored my interest in chemistry research. Working in his lab I’ve learned so much about the field of medicinal chemistry. He has always pushed me to explore new opportunities related to research, whether it be going to the seminars hosted at the College of Pharmacy such as the Chu Lectureship or applying to scholarships related to research or the College of Pharmacy. I originally was completely unaware of the CURO fellowship until Dr. Singh told me about it and how it could be a good opportunity. I decided to apply and now the Summer CURO fellowship I got to be a part of has been the single biggest part of improving my research skills and improving my ability to present my findings.
What are your best memories from your college days?
My best memories from the College of Pharmacy are probably working together with my peers in class and listening to my professors’ jokes and stories in between all the information we were learning. I worked together with my friend, Sarah, on so many exams for so many different classes. The small class size really gives you the ability to connect. I remember taking a boxing class with four other friends from the College of Pharmacy; it literally kicked our butts, but the camaraderie was so fun.
I love the stories the professors share, especially Dr. Michael Bartlett, Associate Dean, Science Education, Research, and Technology. He always has some interesting stories about his time as a scientist. My favorite one he tells is the replacement of the NMR magnet in the Pharmacy building! I also enjoy Dr. Phillip Greenspan’s classes. He always finds a way to make pharmacology more interesting either through jokes or stories, or some metaphor to help remember a pharmacological concept (running from Godzilla to remember the effects of the sympathetic nervous system, for example!). The class was challenging but very entertaining.
The BSPS program is great, because it is definitely a source of community that gives you many chances to connect with peers and faculty, but also many chances to learn and gain experiences.
What are your outside interests?
Outside of class, my main hobbies definitely involve getting outdoors. I love hiking, camping, and backpacking. I’ve hiked many trails all over Georgia and North Carolina. During my 2 gap years, I hope to hike the Appalachian Trail. In the future, I hope to travel around the world to go on different hikes. The Alps, Dolomites, and Rockies are definitely on my list! I also enjoy playing video games. I have a computer that I built myself. It helps me relax on the weekends.