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Murphy Takes the Reins as Dean of UMMC Graduate School

By Andrea Wright Dilworth

UMMC Communications

Dr. Sydney Murphy, new dean of the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, is inspired by her ‘training pedigree.’

Dr. Sydney Murphy’s love of experimentation was nurtured under the expert eye of her first mentor, her grandfather, an organic chemist whose career focused primarily on sugar research.

“We would do ‘experiments’ in the kitchen, which usually resulted in a candy product,” said the new dean of the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences. “While ‘experimenting,’ he would explain the basics of atoms, chemical bonding properties and crystalline structures. 

“I was always intrigued by how something so intangible resulted in a very tangible, and tasty result.”

Murphy keeps this photo of her paternal grandfather, Earl Roberts, at work in his lab, in her office. Because of their similarities in appearance, attitude and interests, her family nicknamed her Syd Earl in his honor.
Murphy keeps this photo of her paternal grandfather, Earl Roberts, at work in his lab, in her office. Because of their similarities in appearance, attitude and interests, her family nicknamed her Syd Earl in his honor.

It was no surprise Murphy pursued a career in the sciences. After a year majoring in biomedical engineering at Mississippi State University, she decided to switch to microbiology.

That’s when divine intervention stepped in.

Sent to the wrong building to register for classes, in one of those classic mix-ups movie scripts are made of, Murphy unwittingly ended up transferring to biochemistry instead. Because the two majors shared the same foundational courses, she didn’t realize for another year that she was not who she thought she was: a microbiology major.

But it was too late.

“I had begun working in an on-campus laboratory in the plant and soil sciences department, assisting one of the professors in sequencing the genome of the Loblolly pine,” she said. “It was my first experience in a research lab, and I loved the dynamic of it all.”

That switcheroo shaped her career trajectory, placing her in a field she did not know was her calling.

After earning a BS in biochemistry and molecular biology, Murphy enrolled at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where she earned a master’s in biomedical sciences, followed by a PhD in physiology and biophysics.

She’s been here ever since, turning down post-doctoral training opportunities at schools including Harvard University, accepting a research fellowship in pharmacology and toxicology at UMMC instead.

Dr. Joey Granger is flanked by Murphy, left, and sister Lyndsay Shipp, who both graduated in 2010 from UMMC.
Dr. Joey Granger is flanked by Murphy, left, and sister Lyndsay Shipp, who both graduated in 2010 from UMMC.

She has no regrets. “I have had the opportunity to train under and with some of the field’s giants and work with great staff and administrators.”

Murphy transitioned from fellow to instructor, and two years later, at just 30, assistant professor and assistant dean of academic affairs, while also serving as associate dean of academic and faculty affairs in the John D. Bower School of Population Health.

“I did my graduate work under Dr. Joey Granger, so he knew exactly what he was getting with me when he offered me the position,” Murphy laughed.

Murphy was an obvious choice to succeed him as dean, said Granger, who retired in June. During her nine years in the SGSHS, her responsibilities have included school accreditation, curriculum oversight, and external and internal review of all educational programs, he said. She also assisted with recruitment and student affair issues and played a critical role in the development and implementation of Workday.

Murphy helps Dr. Joey Granger, her predecessor and mentor, pack up some of his awards before retiring as SGSHS dean in June.
Murphy helps Granger, her predecessor and mentor, pack up some of his awards before retiring as SGSHS dean in June.

“Sydney is well suited for the position,” he said. “She has a great personality and loves working with our graduate faculty and students. She is focused, fair, organized and forward thinking. These are characteristics I saw in her as a graduate student over 15 years ago. I am very proud of her accomplishments and look forward to great things happening under her leadership.”

Some of the traits Granger noted can be traced back to Murphy’s upbringing as a triplet. She and sister Lyndsay Shipp both graduated from UMMC in 2010; Shipp, now in private practice in Oxford, completed medical school at UMMC. Her brother Jason Roberts, a small business owner, crawfish farmer and wildlife artist, rounds out the trio.

“We have always been ‘the Roberts triplets,’ but my mom was determined we would not always be grouped together,” Murphy said. “She knew we were three very different personalities and never dressed us alike and encouraged us to do our own thing. In fact, we all ended up going to different high schools for our junior and senior years.”

Her parents’ influence is evident in how she leads: Her mother, the creative who thrives in organized chaos – she is the mom of triplets, after all – and her father, analytical and regimented.

The Roberts triplets: Murphy, sister Lyndsay Shipp and brother Jason Roberts.
The Roberts triplets: Murphy, Shipp and brother Jason Roberts.

“I like to tell people that my brother is very much like my mom, my sister is very much like my father and I’m just the best of both worlds,” Murphy laughs. “That is usually met with eye rolls. However, it is good to be prepared, knowledgeable and planned, but you must be flexible and resilient if you want to influence change. Most importantly, my parents taught us all to do everything with integrity.”

Having played an integral role as SGSHS associate dean, Murphy is not trying to reinvent the wheel.

“I am very excited to see what the school can accomplish in the coming years,” she said. “We have had a lot of growth in the area of support for our programs, and we have recently begun to see the fruits of those labors in the area of trainee success.

“Long term, we must stay relevant. Biomedical education and research are changing very quickly, and we will continue to offer an exceptional training environment for our students, post-doctoral fellows and graduate faculty.”

While some might be intimidated by the legacies of research leaders UMMC and the SGSHS have produced, Murphy is motivated and inspired by the giants whose shoes she now fills.

“I do think my training ‘pedigree’ is very cool,” Murphy said. “Dr. Guyton, Dr. Hall, Dr. Granger, me. That will make you want to be successful.”


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