Cultivating Clinical Research Scientists at Stevens
Adjunct chemical biology faculty member Nick Murgulo inspires former pre-med student Hector Borges to pursue a career at the pharmaceutical giant Merck
At Stevens Institute of Technology, students benefit not only from innovative educational and research opportunities, but also from a dedicated faculty committed to teaching, mentoring and helping students advance their goals. This includes a robust mix of full-time tenured professors as well as part-time adjunct educators who bring decades of industrial experience to the classroom.
Interacting with one of those adjunct professors, Nicholas Murgolo, spurred Hector Borges ’24, a chemical biology graduate student, to embark on a dream career he had never even heard about before coming to Stevens. In addition to being a longtime adjunct professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB) at Stevens, Murgolo is also a distinguished scientist at Merck Research Laboratories.
Having initially pursued a pre-med track at Florida International University, Borges began questioning his dream of becoming a pediatric neurologist after volunteering in healthcare settings. It was during this pivotal moment that he received information about Stevens' master’s degree in chemical biology.
“I was intrigued by the way the program incorporated modern chemistry and biology,” Borges recalled. “Of course, the professors are amazing world-class industry veterans and researchers. Grad students talked about the connections they made with industry and research. I wanted to be a part of it.”
A panel interview with the Stevens Health Professions Committee convinced him that he was no longer passionate about a medical career, but he was all-in for the Stevens chemical biology program. He earned a scholarship and entered the graduate program in the spring of 2021. From the start, the experience proved transformative.
“My first course was a 6 p.m. Biochemistry II lecture with Dr. Nick Murgolo,” Borges said. “Although it was taught in what we called ‘Zoom University’ during the pandemic, I quickly realized Dr. Murgolo cared about us. He gave us his history and shared stories about working at Merck. He talked about relevant topics such as COVID. And he truly wanted us to learn the concepts and apply them to our lives. He's one of the humblest, most amazing scientific minds I've ever met. After that first class, I sent him a long email thanking him for being so kind and working to connect with us.”
Inspired by Murgolo, Borges set his sights on a research career at the pharmaceutical giant. And later that year, his wish came true.
“I’ve only ever applied to one full-time job: Merck clinical trial coordinator,” he said. “In 2021, I saw a LinkedIn job posting for an entry-level job that didn’t require experience and offered a nine-month training period. I didn’t know what clinical research entailed, but I knew I wanted that job. I applied, I went through the interview process, and I was very lucky and blessed to be hired at Merck.”
For about a year, Borges managed the electronic trial master files and uploaded regulatory documents to start screening and enrolling patients for clinical trials. Then he was promoted to his current role of associate clinical research associate, ensuring patients, processes and data are protected during clinical trials.
“I get to make an impact and make sure that the patients and clinical trials are safe,” he said. “I love interacting with the principal investigators, scientists, clinical researchers and all my other colleagues. Everyone is intelligent, inspirational, caring and compassionate. Every day I learn something new, and I'm more convinced I can do this for my career.”
Borges appreciates how Stevens has prepared him to succeed, from taking courses in methodology and biostatistics, to learning about scientific aspects of pharmaceuticals, to honing his critical thinking skills in looking for things out of the norm in his daily problem-solving.
“My scientific curiosity was always met with understanding and knowledge,” he explained. “Everybody treated my inquiries like good questions. It's a community of people who want to improve our scientific understanding. We're truly scientists here at Stevens.”
His managers at Merck and his professors at Stevens have all accommodated the flexibility required to complete his degree, which has predominantly involved evening classes.
“When I took in-person courses with Dr. Murgolo, he was always there 30 to 45 minutes early,” Borges noted. “We talked about scientific topics, our careers, and even our personal lives. He was so interested in my work and my achievements, and he became a true mentor. I joke with him that when I sat in his classes during the pandemic, I was thankful for the mask because my mouth was always open. It was difficult to believe I had the privilege of listening to him saying the most fascinating things. He’s so passionate and funny, his lectures make you passionate too. He's one of the best professors I've ever had the blessing to come across, and he changed my life.”