Harika Vemula

Doctoral Student Harika Vemula Came Out of Her Shell at UMKC

Interdisciplinary PhD, Pharmaceutical Sciences | School of Pharmacy
Graduation Year: 2016

How has your college program inspired you?

The iPHD program I’m in at UMKC is an excellent platform to test my abilities and prove myself professionally and personally. It has given me a chance to take up different challenges and look at things in a new direction. The best part about the program is its interdisciplinary nature — trying to connect different fields of science and engineering which is what my passion is about. It made me zealous to try new ways and dream big.

Where did you do your undergraduate work?

In India, a bachelor in pharmacy. Initially, I came here for the master’s program. I talked to a professor in PhD program and that’s how I got interested.

“As an international student and far from my family, initially I was reserved and in my own shell. But now, after four years at UMKC, my perspective has changed and I learned that beyond my comfort zone is my life, my original me.”


I found the program here interesting, especially the iPHD program through the School of Pharmacy. I am interested in analytical chemistry. Here, I got a chance to work with that and interface with microbiology which is fascinating to me.

Where is UMKC taking you?

I am trying to build up my confidence. I want to be a scientist in the future so this is making me plan, organize and implement my ideas. So I am improving my writing skills, my leadership skills.

Tell us about your research.

I work under the supervision of Dr. William Gutheil at School of Pharmacy. I work in collaboration with Dr. Garth Resch at the School of Biological Sciences, where we are analyzing the ADME (absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion characteristics) of a clinical drug; Dr. Lynda Bonewald at the School of Dentistry, where we work on muscle-signaling proteins and bone cement; Dr. Mridul Mukherjee of the School of Pharmacy, where we are trying to figure out the pharmacodynamics activity of an unknown gene.

Since entering college, what have you learned about yourself?

Some moments in life change you forever and stay close to your heart all your life. My experiences at UMKC made me confident in expressing myself.  As an international student and far from my family, initially I was reserved and in my own shell. But now, after four years at UMKC, my perspective has changed and I learned that beyond my comfort zone is my life, my original me.

I never knew about my leadership skills before coming to UMKC. I served as Vice President for IDSC (Interdisciplinary Doctoral Student Council) at UMKC, Secretary of AAPS (American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists) UMKC student chapter, UMKC Enactus member and Associate member of Sigma Xi Kansas City chapter. This year, I will be working as Editor-In-Chief of UMKC JIDR (Journal of Interdisciplinary Research). I’m looking forward to a great semester ahead.

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received from a professor?

Take every chance. Drop your fear.

Are you a first generation college student?

I can say that I’m the first-generation PhD student from my family. Woohoo! I’m so excited and working hard to keep up the family name.

What’s your greatest fear?

Fear of change. I’m not good at accepting quick changes.

What is one word that best describes you?

Individualization. That’s my signature characteristic. I’m intrigued by the unique qualities in each person. I’m impatient with generalizations because I don’t want to obscure what is special and distinct about each person. Most of my friends say this as I pick out the right gifts for their birthdays and events.

Have a motto?

Everyone has a dream that defines them.

And what is your dream?

Becoming a good scientist.

What’s your favorite place on campus?

The cafeteria. I get a chance to meet so many people there. I have many stressful things in my life, and when I go to the cafeteria, I see the smiling faces of the people and that really makes my day.

What are your hobbies?

I go to Swinney in the evenings. I go to yoga classes and dance classes.

Tell us more about your involvement in student organizations.

Enactus. I learned something from it. I was a past member of the Indian Students Association. When students first come from India they need our support so we guide them.

Where do you like to go in Kansas City?

Westport. It has a good collection of arts and culture, good restaurants and everything. I have a group of friends that I hang with all the time, so it’s like, we have to try this place, we have to try that place, we like to just go and try new things.

Why leave India and come to U.S.?

We don’t have such good infrastructure there, we don’t have good resources. So I thought I would come here and get my studies done and then go back and work. I miss my family while I am here.