UND Ph.D. student eyes entrepreneurial career in healthcare research

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UND Ph.D. student eyes entrepreneurial career in healthcare research

Brianna Goldenstein chased A's like she chased piglets on the home farm.

The Summa Cum Laude biology major, with minors in chemistry and deaf studies, collects a Ph.D. in physiology, pharmacology and therapeutics at this year's spring University of North Dakota commencement.

And to hear her tell the story, it was a fun, if exhausting, ride that left her eager to pursue her future.

"I love learning," said Goldenstein, who grew up on a small hog farm in Kerkhoven, Minn., (near Willmar). "As far back as I can remember, I was a question asker, always raising my hand in class, and I was always at the top of my sciences classes such as chemistry and algebra. I was lucky to have excellent teachers who encouraged me to learn more."

And this in a small rural school where advanced placement classes were done the old-fashioned way.

"Yes, we did them on paper and mailed them in," said Goldenstein, who as a graduate student in Van Doze's lab in the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences, worked on learning and memory and the adrenergic receptor system.

"When I chose to go to college — I went to Concordia in Moorhead my first year — I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew what my strengths were," Goldenstein said. "My science teachers were always telling me to pursue science, even though my ACT scores weren't all that good. I enjoy learning but I've never done well on standardized tests, except for the organic chemistry standardized test I took as an undergrad, which I aced."

So when UND Student Help Center folks asked her what she'd done well with in high school, science was the answer — and she was counseled to pursue pre-med.

"So there and then I became a biology major with a pre-med focus," said Goldenstein, neither of whose parents hold college degrees. "My father — whose highest degree is a high school diploma — farmed for more than 30 years before becoming the manager at a Farmer's Cooperative Elevator in Cottonwood, Minn., and my mother was a beautician and then a homemaker who raised four children.

"After a year at Concordia, I transferred to UND. I loved it because I could take as many credits as I wanted to without having to pay extra — so I always took at least 20 credits because I really like staying busy. The only semester I took fewer it felt terrible, so I went back to 20, including a semester at 23 credits. And kept up with straight A's."

Goldenstein's enthusiasm for hardcore science studies is infectious. Her focus and tenacity may be linked to years doing chores on the farm.

"I was always out there chasing piglets, doing chores," said Goldenstein, whose dad raised corn, soybeans, some wheat and forage crops such as alfalfa. "But my parents were very excited about my grades and encouraged me to study."

"I really loved the feeling I had when I was doing algebra homework," said Goldenstein, who also has picked up a working knowledge of French along the way.

Early in college, she learned that to be a successful applicant to medical school, she'd need research experience. So she asked one of her biology teachers at UND — Turk Rhen — about a lab position and spent a year with him learning about the genetic factors that prompt how turtles become male or female.

"Then a friend told me about his work in electrophysiology in Van Doze's lab, and I thought it sounded cool, so I applied there between my sophomore and junior year, and have been there ever since," she said. "I also became a mentor in UND's first Research Experience for Undergraduates program."

That's when she realized that a Ph.D. felt more compelling than medical school.

"I was unsure about a career in today's medicine, so I didn't want to commit to that path, considering the debt I would incur. Dr. Doze encouraged me to choose the Ph.D. path, where I got a tuition waiver and was paid a stipend," she said.

Now it's graduation time — and the moment when Goldenstein focuses on her future.

"I'm leaning toward entrepreneurship instead of going into academia," she said. "I want to do something new and different in health care. I'm thinking I'd like to create a business that encourages people to be much more active in their own health care — and set up a research institute alongside that."

Juan Miguel Pedraza University & Public Affairs writer

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