Health & Medicine

Football Player-Turned-Scientist Among Burnett Fall Graduates

An injury set a biomedical student on the path to complete his doctorate.

By Christin Senior |
December 14, 2018

A man in a white lab coat holds a test tube

Doctoral student Cody Sharp chose to further this studies in science after a football injury forced him to change his goals.

Cody Sharp had always dreamed of playing pro football until a shattered shoulder ended those hopes.  But he was determined that injury wouldn’t mark the end of his story.

On Saturday, he will collect his Ph.D. in biomedical sciences – one of 181 students graduating from the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences.  During the ceremony, Burnett graduates will be awarded 166 bachelor’s degrees, including nine with university honors, 13 master’s degrees and two Ph.Ds.

“I felt defeated after that incident … but eventually I decided to pick myself up and work towards a new goal.” – Cody Sharp, UCF doctoral student

“I felt defeated after that incident because I was riding on that football career,” says Sharp, who injured his shoulder while playing football at Birmingham Southern University. “But eventually I decided to pick myself up and work towards a new goal.  I’ve always loved science and I found the bachelor’s in biotechnology program at UCF and it was exactly what I wanted to do – research in medicine. I wanted to do more than treat patients, I wanted to be the one to find cures and treatments.”

In 2008, Sharp enrolled at UCF and pursued undergraduate studies in biotechnology with a minor in coaching and athletics. He stayed at UCF to complete his master’s in biotechnology followed by a doctorate degree. For his Ph.D. program, he joined the lab of infectious disease specialist Saleh Naser and researched Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis or MAP, a strain of bacteria found in cows that can be spread to humans through consumption of milk and beef products.  He helped discover a connection between MAP and rheumatoid arthritis and his study, published in the Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology journal, gained national and international attention.

“Cody’s story is a testament that life’s obstacles can sometimes translate to a successful story.” – Saleh Naser, UCF professor

“Cody’s story is a testament that life’s obstacles can sometimes translate to a successful story,” says Naser. “As his advisor, research mentor and friend, I am very proud of what he has achieved and what he has become, and I have full confidence that he will achieve whatever he sets his mind to.”

The Burnett School offers undergraduate degree programs in biomedical sciences, biotechnology and medical laboratory sciences and prepares students for medical, veterinary, and other related professional schools. Others continue post-graduate studies to become research scientists.

“We are very happy to see our students grow, mature and now leave as colleagues,” says Naser, who is also the associate director of Burnett’s graduate program. “I am proud of the development of our graduate program and we owe it to the hard work and contributions of our students.”

After graduation, Sharp will begin a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Florida in January. There, he will research Type 1 diabetes at the UF Diabetes Institute.

“I’m very excited to collect my Ph.D. and to enter this new chapter of my life,” Sharp says, “but I am also really emotional because I’ll be leaving this lab, it’s like my second home. After being at UCF for 10 years, it’s going to be very different not coming here every day, but I’m very excited to see what my future holds.”