Amazing Students Profiles

Phil Grayeski

Phil Grayeski

While academic work is the top priority for Phil Grayeski, a Goldwater Scholar and a senior in genetics and chemistry, he still finds time to help in the community and, whenever he can, hit the basketball court.


Raritan, N.J.

High School:

Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School

Degree objective:

B.S. in genetics, B.S. in chemistry

Expected graduation:

Spring 2014

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

Research has been a cornerstone of my life at UGA. As a sophomore, I worked in Janet Westpheling’s lab on prokaryotic genetic engineering and gained the necessary experience and professionalism to be a contributing member in a research environment. The next summer, I conducted research in Munich, Germany, in Manfred Ogris’ lab at the Ludwig-Maximilians Institute designing promoters that exhibited transcriptional selectivity, yet high expression in metastatic melanoma cells in nucleic acid-based therapies. There, I realized that I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and implications of drug design and the integration of chemistry, genetics, computer science and immunology within this new field. In my junior year, I transitioned into Jonathan Eggenschwiler’s lab, a eukaryotic genetic engineering lab, to become more familiar with this system. Currently, we are working on deciphering the gating mechanism of the cell cycle on Sonic Hedgehog signaling and determining its possible clinical applications. I was fortunate to be named a Goldwater Scholar in 2012 for this compilation of work. This past summer, I worked in Dr. Michael Goldberg’s lab at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to develop formulations that deliver small molecules to strengthen the immune system’s response toward cancer.

In the fall of my sophomore year, I co-founded Whatever It Takes at UGA along with Anna Konieczny, who has been an incredible friend and co-director throughout a tumultuous beginning. WIT at UGA attempts to improve family life, safety, health and education simultaneously in specific low-income neighborhoods in order to ensure every child will be on track to have the option to pursue a post-secondary education. We believe that it’s not possible to improve education without this multi-targeted approach of these four critical areas. WIT at UGA, along with the support of an incredible volunteer base, has founded three after-school programs at Rocksprings, East Athens and Oaks on the River (Oaks is unfortunately now closed due to a college realty company buying the property). Through these educational programs, we connect and work with the families of the community to implement further initiatives related to family life, safety and health.

As a volunteer head coach for the Oconee County Parks and Recreation basketball program, I’ve had an amazing outlet to get away from the occasional stress from school and Athens.  I was able to work alongside former UGA basketball player Carlos Strong and be the youth director for one of his developmental camps. I also served as the vice president of programming for Sigma Phi Epsilon, which helped me find a place and a home in such a large university.

Family Ties to UGA:

My cousin/unofficial UGA campus recruiter, Mary Webb, is an alumna.

I chose to attend UGA because…

… of Athens. This city is incredible—from the music scene, the diverse array of restaurants, to the amazing community. Athens is one of the few places where it seems sunny, with crystal clear blue skies, 364 out of 365 days of the year. Also, the students at UGA that comprise parts of this community were extraordinarily welcoming, down-to-earth and motivated individuals that I wanted to surround myself with and engage with. It’s been the best decision of my life to come here.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

… getting lunch downtown while admiring North Campus with a friend. Also, I enjoy attending random lectures and going to the Immunology Journal Club on Fridays. Specifically, David Dean’s lecture on “Cytoplasmic Trafficking of Plasmid-Based Gene Therapy Approaches” at the pharmacy school greatly influenced my research interests in gene therapy.

When I have free time, I like…

… to play basketball at the East Athens Community Center park, a hidden basketball mecca in the South. The community there reminds me of the competitiveness of New Jersey basketball to some degree—where the courts have sign-up sheets for the 15 to 20 guys that are trying to get on to play. Basketball is something that has kept me centered and calm throughout the hectic lifestyle of college. It will always be a part of me.

The craziest thing I’ve done is…

… choose to live and work in Munich, Germany, for three months by myself. I did not know anyone and I did not (and still cannot) speak any German. On the weekends, the majority of my nights were spent going into American hostels and convincing groups that a) this was not a scene from “Taken” and b) to go out to different areas that I knew since I became a semi-local. Having new groups of friends every weekend, getting to see the Champions League final, and talking to random locals in the “biergartens” allowed me to meet some incredible people, immerse myself in an entirely new culture and have an unforgettable trip.

My favorite place to study is…

… in the cubicles or third floor lounge in Coverdell. It’s quiet, calm and usually forces me to stay awake if I need to complete an assignment.

My favorite professor is…

… a list of amazing instructors that took the time to invest in not only my undergraduate education, but also invest in my growth as a human being. Jonathan Eggenschwiler, my current research mentor, challenges me daily to reframe problems to devise unique solutions. He is one of the most fascinating individuals I have ever had the opportunity to work under. Janet Westpheling, my previous research mentor, prepared me for the professional world of research—from highlighting good practices, to teaching me how to truly read a research paper, and to being an incredible adviser for my future goals. Kim Klonowski, my immunology professor, and Melissa Fahmy, my biomedical ethics professor, have delivered two of the most challenging, engaging and thought-provoking courses offered at the university, and I absolutely loved every minute in their lectures. Finally, Vikki Clawson helped me feel comfortable with the uncertainty of life and discover my core values and dreams in her personal leadership course. These individuals have had a lasting impact on my life that I aim to never take for granted.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

… the 130/140 Herring St. group and my Foundation Fellows Class of 2014. Coming into UGA from New Jersey where I rarely was able to return, these two groups became my new family, and they will stay my family when I graduate. Sure, Craig Venter, Geoffrey Canada and Coach K might all make the top five, but they could never compete with Herring Street and the Fellows. College can be a stressful, hectic and busy place without the luxury of tons of free time, but if there were a group I would love to just spend an afternoon with on a road trip, in a foreign city or on Herty Field one more time, it’d be my UGA family before I graduate.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

… climb Mount Everest, then jump off with a wingsuit.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… head back to South Africa and go backpacking along the back country and the Namibian desert with the South African Rambo, Keith Murray, and a group of friends for several months. His description of “true” isolation among the mountainous red sand dunes, the liveliness and excitement of small scattered towns, and camping in the reserves just sounds too incredible to pass up.

After graduation, I plan to…

… pursue an M.D./Ph.D. with a focus on new drug delivery systems and nucleic acid-based therapies. The puzzles and obstacles that modern medicine presents us are an incredibly interesting academic challenge for me. I enjoy the questioning and thinking behind devising novel solutions to diseases such as different types of cancer and hereditary disorders, where the potential to aid lots of people is present.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

… my trip to Machu Picchu. I ended up getting altitude sickness, food poisoning and caught in a narrow alleyway with two large steers heading in my direction all before even getting to the ruins. Once we got there, it rained and was covered in clouds for a solid three straight hours as we prayed it would clear. It finally did, and it was one of the most worthwhile, pristine and humbling experiences to bear witness to.