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USC PhD Student Profile: Marko Chavez

Marko greets Dr. Sally (Sarah) Pratt, vice provost for graduate programs
Marko greets Dr. Sally (Sarah) Pratt, vice provost for graduate programs

Marko is a first year PhD student in the Physics program at USC Dornsife. In his first academic year, he undertook the ambitious task of applying to six external graduate research fellowships!

Marko’s Research

Marko’s research is primarily focused on harnessing the unique “metal-reducing” properties of the Shewanella bacteria for the construction of primitive renewable energy devices such as photoelectrochemical cells.

USC Graduate School & the Fellowship Application Process

Marko chose to defer his Teaching Assistantship in order to dedicate his time outside of the classroom to developing his fellowship applications. He saw this as an opportunity to develop his own research focus, collaborate early on with an advising professor, and thus put forth the strongest applications he could.

“It was an incredibly challenging experience, but I had fun writing each and every statement. The applications required that I produce an original research question and a realistic procedure for getting to the answer. This in turn encouraged me to think proactively about the direction I want to take my doctoral research in. I felt like I was taking control of my future,” said Marko.

In addition to frequent collaboration with his advising professor, Dr. Moh El-Naggar, Marko used the USC Graduate School’s resources to help with time management. He met with Leah Aldridge, the Graduate Student Advocate for Fellowships, to discuss strategies he could use to help with balancing his classroom commitments with the Fellowship application process.

Leah and I touched base several times throughout the semester. She assisted me with prioritizing and organizing the many projects I was juggling my first semester. Together we made sure that nothing important fell to the wayside while I worked through each application.

– Marko Chavez

Marko’s Advice to other PhD Students

“I am the first person in my family to pursue higher education. My father never finished high school. He had to immigrate to America from El Salvador at the age of seventeen in order to escape a civil war. My mother, whose parents were both non-English speaking Greek immigrants, was unable to attend college. As a result, I did not have access to many professional development resources growing up. When I first discovered my passion for physics, it was up to me to find and then utilize the resources around me. From my persistent searching, I was able to meet the professors who would ultimately offer me a spot in their laboratories and I was able to find resources like the external graduate research fellowships I applied to here at USC,” said Marko.

Sometimes opportunities are easily obscured by difficult circumstances growing up. Therefore, it is important that students keep their head up and stay on the lookout for anything and everything, no matter how small, that can bring them closer to accomplishing their dreams.

– Marko Chavez