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Internship ‘bridges’ students to professional stem cell researchers

%22Bridges+to+Stem+Cells%22+interns+train+in+a+laboratory%2C+August+2017.+Photo+courtesy+of+Susan+Kaiser.

"Bridges to Stem Cells" interns train in a laboratory, August 2017. Photo courtesy of Susan Kaiser.

"Bridges to Stem Cells" interns train in a laboratory, August 2017. Photo courtesy of Susan Kaiser.

by Camille Dejoras, Staff Writer

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The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine offers science majors at San Diego State an internship program that gives them the opportunity to conduct research with professional scientists, while also being paid and having their tuition covered for a year.

The internship program, called the Bridges to Stem Cells Research Internship Program, provides students with the chance to work in a professional lab setting and complete extensive, year-long research on stem cells, said Susan Kaiser, the program’s administrator at SDSU.

“We are currently accepting applications for our 10th cohort, and students who are selected will begin training in August of next year and work until July of 2019,” Kaiser said.

The deadline to apply for the program is Dec. 12. The selection committee will begin choosing students by January 2018.

Kaiser said this internship is vastly different from others because 10 selected students are being paid by the institute to complete their research at scientific institution in La Jolla. She said the interns will look at a list of research topics in different labs and choose which one sounds most interesting to them.

Students will work in an institution’s lab for 30 hours a week while also being paid $2,500 a month for a whole year, Kaiser said. The internship also pays for two semesters of tuition — up to $7,000 a semester — and covers the cost of the additional classes students must take alongside the program.  

“Students will get the opportunity to travel for conferences, attend scientific meetings and work with some of the top-notch scientists in San Diego,” Kaiser said.

Biology senior Rachael McVicar did her internship at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in La Jolla where she researched lungs and lung cell associated diseases. When she presented her research to professionals at a conference in Boston, she was able to meet the Shimpei Gotoh, who was the scientist she modeled her entire research procedure after. She said this was a surreal experience for her.

“This internship allows you to be able to have access to these people and opportunities that would have not have existed before,” McVicar said.

According to the program website, students will also participate in patient engagement activities and stay involved in educational community outreach.

“Students will actually reach out and talk to patients with certain diseases, and they get a chance to see why they’re doing the research and how it’s helping people,” Kaiser said.

Biology master’s student Tanisha Takhar said she also did her internship at the Sanford Consortium from Aug. 2016 to July 2017. During her time there, she was able to identify an antibody that can bind to cancer cells and reduce their activity levels.

“Before the year with CIRM started, I was a budding scientist and still developing my career,” Takhar said. “Afterward, the program helped me develop my skills and improve my scientific communication.”

Takhar said she encourages people to apply because the program offers huge benefits and challenges students to be better scientists and researchers.

Sarah Fernandes, who is also currently pursuing a master’s degree in biology, completed her research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla. Prior to the internship, Fernandes said she knew she wanted to go into the research field. She also said the stipend all interns received was one of the huge benefits of the program.

“The money really helped me focus on my research and learning instead of also having to work part-time on top of being in the lab,” Fernandes said.

Kaiser said the program has accepted students from a variety of majors such as cell and molecular biology, bioengineering, kinesiology, mechanical engineering and chemistry.

“We’re a diverse group, and if there are students from non-biology majors who are really interested in scientific research, this could be a good fit for them,” Kaiser said.

For more information about the Bridges to Stem Cell Research Internship Program, students can contact Susan Kaiser via email at skaiser@mail.sdsu.edu or visit the program website http://www.sci.sdsu.edu/scip/.

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