By James Irwin
University Public Affairs
Myles Boyd came to Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012 to study engineering and ultimately go to medical school. It was a good plan, until two years later when Boyd hit an academic roadblock.
“I was in pre-engineering, and I was behind in mathematics, which put me behind in a lot of engineering courses,” Boyd said. “And I didn’t have enough information or practice to know what I wanted to do or to understand the work.”
Boyd’s academic struggles prevented him from declaring a major. It was a hard reality to face. But rather than find another area of study, Boyd decided he truly wanted to pursue an engineering degree. As an undeclared student, he started taking the math, chemistry and physics classes required to reapply.
Five years later, Boyd, a senior in the College of Engineering and College of Humanities and Sciences, is poised to graduate from VCU with degrees in chemistry and chemical and life sciences engineering and minors in math and physics. His journey to commencement, he said, began with a sober understanding of himself.
“It’s something that required a lot of groundwork,” he said. “I wasn’t good enough at math. I didn’t understand it. I came to the realization I was not good enough to be where I wanted to be.”
‘I was understanding what I really wanted to do’
Boyd’s journey to re-enroll in the College of Engineering included experiences to round out his view of math, science, research and medicine — and how they help people. He enrolled in VCU ASPiRE, a living-learning program that promotes community engagement, where he volunteered with local organizations to mentor children and feed the homeless. He became an emergency medical technician. He worked in a lab for two summers at Howard University Cancer Center, where he examined biomarkers for prostate cancer research.
Later, Boyd enrolled in VCU LEAD, a program that helps undergraduates hone their leadership skills. The program director, Jimmie Gahagan, Ph.D., became one of Boyd’s mentors. Boyd also worked as a math tutor in Richmond Public Schools.
“I was understanding what I really wanted to do,” Boyd said.
“It’s something that required a lot of groundwork. I wasn’t good enough at math. I didn’t understand it. I came to the realization I was not good enough to be where I wanted to be.”
Through his classes — and his passion for using science to help people live better lives — Boyd became interested in pharmaceuticals. An immunology course taught by John Ryan, Ph.D., a biology professor, set Boyd on a path to pursue a career in biopharmaceutical engineering. Creating medication, he realized, was a way to bring together his interests in medicine, research and helping people.
“I decided I didn’t want to go to medical school,” Boyd said. “I wanted to produce medications that help people fight off advanced disease — autoimmune, cancer, asthma. You can be a scientist in that realm, and that’s how I got into life science engineering.”
Ryan’s class was one of many turning points, Boyd said.
“My passion for medicine led me to Howard. The mathematics and physics courses led me to understand how engineering fit into my passion for medicine,” Boyd said. “And then I started reading about research on the MCV Campus and pharmaceuticals and medical devices helping people see, walk and hear again, and I was like, ‘I want to be part of that.’”
Back in engineering
Boyd re-enrolled in the engineering program in 2015. Soon, he was working in a pharmaceutical engineering lab under the direction of Thomas Roper, Ph.D., a professor of chemical and life sciences engineering. Roper’s lab was using photochemistry to make biological molecules more detectable for clinicians. Boyd was in heaven.
“This is geared to the prediction of metabolic disease,” he said. “Your body produces molecules that indicate you may have a metabolic disorder, and it’s hard to detect that in a clinic without sending things to the lab. That can take weeks to determine. We’re trying to tag the clues.”
“It’s so often in education that we emphasize GPA and grades, which is very important. [But] I’m a very hands-on learner, so I try to make everything I learn relevant and visual to me. That’s part of why I did so many things — I needed to make all of that real for me in order to understand it.”
Boyd worked in Roper’s lab through his final year at VCU. As he dove further into pharmaceutical engineering, he also started learning more about the companies that manufacture medicine. In 2018, he completed an internship at the British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. There, he learned about the company’s Future Leaders Program, a graduate training experience for young professionals.
Future Leaders lasts three years. About 1,000 people applied to the program last fall. Boyd was one of them, and he advanced through a long interview process as the field was whittled to a handful of final candidates. Boyd was offered a position in pharmaceutical sciences, and will start his career with GSK in Zebulon, North Carolina, where he will help manufacture medication for critical-needs patients.
His path to this moment is a case study in persistence.
“It’s so often in education that we emphasize GPA and grades, which is very important,” Boyd said. “[But] I’m a very hands-on learner, so I try to make everything I learn relevant and visual to me. That’s part of why I did so many things — I needed to make all of that real for me in order to understand it.”
A bright future
Nearly seven years have passed since Boyd first enrolled at VCU. If someone in 2012 had told him how his time at the university would unfold, Boyd would have laughed at them.
“I would have thought you were crazy,” he said.
He quickly gathers his thoughts.
“One of the best things I did was find mentors, and I found people who had a breadth of knowledge about the things I knew I would need,” he said. “The best thing I ever did was meet people like Dr. Ryan, Dr. Gahagan and Dr. Roper.
“It’s been an unorthodox journey, but I’m very proud of who I’ve become. Realizing the work I needed to do — I was glad those wake-up moments took place. Without them, I would be nowhere near who I am today.”