A C l o s e r look
R ES EAR CH
A Field Trip to Future Careers By Lina Zeldovich
ne day this past summer, a group of students at the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) at the Newark Health Sciences Campus hung up their lab coats, left their benches, and boarded a van to Summit, NJ. The students—undergraduates from colleges around the country who were partaking in SGS’s Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates program—were excited. They were on a field trip to learn about future careers, visiting pharmaceutical company Celgene’s Thomas O. Daniel Research Incubator and Collaboration Center. Organized by Amariliz Rivera-Medina, PhD, assistant professor at the NJMS Center for Immunity and Inflammation, the summer program provides about a dozen handpicked students with an opportunity to do high-caliber research at a top-tier science institution with faculty and lab equipment their colleges often don’t have. The 10-week session includes lectures, lab work, and a research project that culminates with a presentation.
Another important part of the program is helping students identify and pursue personal goals in biology and medicine. Investigators who work in areas ranging from metabolism to aging to infectious diseases discuss career paths with students during their weekly talks. “Our goal is to immerse undergraduates in research and broaden their perspective about what’s possible once you attain a PhD,” Rivera-Medina says. “We want them to know about opportunities in different areas of science—academia, pharmaceutical, incubator.” A modern, 16,000 square-foot lab facility, the incubator aims to foster a creative environment to help innovators accelerate life-changing medical and pharmaceutical discoveries. Already hard at work at the incubator is Renata Pasqualini, PhD, chief of the Division of Cancer Biology in the Department of Radiation Oncology, whose promising company PhageNova Bio focuses on phage therapy, using viruses to battle bacteria as an alternative to antibiotics.
During their visit, the students learned how such innovative partnerships are formed. Incubator director John Anthes spoke about the creative and entrepreneurial aspects of today’s science industry. He explained that modern science develops very dynamically because computers and artificial intelligence algorithms allow researchers to test hypotheses, achieve results, and bring medicines to patients significantly faster than before. He also noted that science entrepreneurship is important not only for health care, but also for economic development.
Juan Manuel Inclan Rico and Samantha Avina—PhD candidates who mentor the undergraduates in the summer program—say the visit helped students understand and ponder their future career choices. “People think that if you have a PhD, you either go into industrial or academic research, but nowadays you can also go into science policy or science entrepreneurship,” says Avina, whose participation in the same program two years ago inspired her to pursue her own postgraduate degree. “I think our students were quite impressed by the job opportunities a PhD brings today.”
Doreen Badheka, PhD, SGS program director for special projects, helped organize the field trip, together with one of the incubator’s advisors, Vincent Smeraglia, Rutgers executive director of research commercialization. Badheka describes the students’ experience as mind-blowing. “They understood how laboratory research translates into medical treatment and how an incubator can help a company achieve that,” she says.
Varoon Phondge, an SGS summer research undergraduate on track to become a physician, says that the trip was an eyeopener. “I found it really interesting how the incubator chooses people with ideas and gives them space to do research and expand their company,” he says. “I am now considering doing a PhD program myself, and maybe even putting my own idea through an incubator. And I don’t think it’s that farfetched.”
Amariliz Rivera-Medina, PhD (center), with PhD candidates Samantha Avina and Juan Manuel Inclan Rico
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