How an innovative graduate school in biomedicine enables students to reach their potential


Three graduates, three trips


As an undergraduate student about to graduate from the University of Michigan, Lindsay LaFave had an idea of ​​what she wanted to do next, but wasn’t sure where her new chapter would unfold.

“I was looking for a graduate program where I could continue working on cancer biology,” she says. “And I was applying across the country to find a good candidate.”

Shortly after submitting her applications, LaFave, a native of the Midwest, landed in New York City for the first time in her life, interviewing as part of the relatively new doctoral program of the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSK), who had only graduated one class yet. Soon after, she took what she describes as a “leap of faith” and enrolled in GSK, the graduate school affiliated with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), the oldest and the largest private cancer care center in the world. In doing so, she enrolled in a program that redefines the study of biomedical sciences by providing students with a top-notch research experience and enabling graduates to pursue an unparalleled range of career opportunities in science.

After completing his doctorate at GSK, LaFave held a postdoctoral position at MIT and will soon be opening his own research lab this fall at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore Health System in New York City.


Prashant Monian

Prashant Monian also became interested in cancer research after graduating from the University of Georgia. When applying to graduate schools, the opportunity to study oncology was at the top of his list of “must-haves” for a doctoral program and he was considering pursuing a tenure-track professor position in the future. GSK’s affiliation with MSK, along with its location in the Big Apple, forced it to take its own leap and enroll in the program.

Throughout his time at GSK, he heard several faculty members lecture on their own areas of expertise and conducted hands-on research in a cell biology lab, which made Monian realize that his interests went beyond research. During the program, he immersed himself in the business side of the scientific world. He attended an after-school counseling club, where he discussed case studies with other graduate students from GSK and neighboring institutions and learned from professionals who found positions at top venture capital firms. and counseling after obtaining their doctorate.

After two years in consulting, Monian moved to Boston where he now serves as a senior scientist at Wave Life Sciences, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At Wave, Monian conducts laboratory research and works with senior leaders to analyze results and chart the strategic course of the business – an ideal balance of what he’s learned, and has come to love, at GSK.

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Theresa Hunter and Joseph Sun

When Theresa Hunter enrolled in GSK after graduating from the California Institute of Technology undergraduate degree, she had a clear vision for her future. “I knew I wanted to study immunology,” she says. “And I wanted to eventually have an impact on patients. “

Hunter quickly recognized the value of GSK’s unique structure, which allows students to complete their coursework in the first year so that they can immerse themselves in the lab afterwards. By working directly with scientists at MSK and honing his research and analytical skills, Hunter has moved closer every day to his goal of conducting research that has the potential to have a significant impact on the lives of patients.

Now, after completing a post-doctorate at pharmaceutical giant Merck, Hunter holds the position of Senior Scientist at PACT Pharma, a clinical-stage immuno-oncology company based in South San Francisco, overseeing the experiments and helping the company to personalized cell therapy to provide solutions to patients with solid tumors.

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Different paths, common threads

These varied career paths reflect GSK’s mission to help graduates excel in the world of science. Founded in 2004, GSK is located in a hotbed of biomedical research and is quietly (but rapidly) building a reputation as a go-to destination for bright students interested in all aspects of the biomedical sciences. The innovative program allows students to explore the science of cancer through a broad perspective of basic and translational research.

For most observers, GSK’s appeal lies primarily in its affiliation with MSK, one of the world’s most recognized cancer hospitals and research centers. The program, however, is not strictly focused on cancer research. Far from it, in fact.

As LaFave says, “Although Memorial Sloan Kettering is one of the best cancer hospitals in the country and there are many opportunities in this space, there are also a number of labs within the institution that do biology. base not related to cancer. “

LaFave and his fellow graduates are quick to point out GSK’s strength in basic science – the building blocks that enable students to build their academic journey. Against this background, it’s no surprise that GSK has graduates in a range of science-related fields.

“Some of my classmates work as data scientists or in venture capital,” says Monian. “One of my immediate classmates got a tenure-track teaching position in New York. It covers the whole spectrum of careers in science.

“The career services at GSK have been very supportive, ”adds Hunter. “They had the resources to help put you on your career path. It’s definitely a big plus. “

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A program that promotes the real world experience

GSK graduates have such diverse scientific and professional interests after graduation, as many enter the program with one area of ​​interest in mind and end up pursuing something completely different – a dynamic that naturally took hold when the program established an innovative approach study programme university studies and laboratory research from the beginning.

The First year of study includes the “core course” – core courses such as experimental and mechanistic biology – as well as the opportunity to try three separate lab rotations. From there, students move on to exclusive research, ultimately choosing a mentor who helps them guide their research and support their thesis.

“At GSK, most [of the coursework] was launched in the first year, so for the second year and the rest, you can focus on the science that interests you, ”says LaFave.

Along the way, students participate in book clubs, sessions that require them to read and critique articles that are often well outside their field of study – a way to develop analytical skills and to develop their skills. familiar with cutting-edge research in the biomedical spectrum.

By emphasizing practical experience and intellectual development over memorization, GSK exposes students to many fields and research disciplines. “I think what was great about the GSK program is that they gave us the tools in year one to understand how to do research and understand what we needed to learn,” says LaFave. “Schools like GSK are really exciting for people who want to get into science very quickly.”

The program also includes a mentoring program that many students attribute to their eventual career decisions.

Xuejun Jiang, PhD, a cell biologist who runs his own lab at MSK, served as Monian’s mentor. “Having several staff members giving lectures was essential [to my career decision]because they taught students in specific areas, but also introduced students to their different labs, ”says Monian. “The first year mentor helped me make my decision. I slowly started wanting to work in a cell biology lab later in the program.

Hunter served in the immunology lab of Joseph Sun, PhD, working closely with him as the third graduate student to join the lab. “He was very present and willing to ask and answer my questions,” she says.

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A lively and collaborative environment

Regardless, the wide range of courses and research options make for a unique and rewarding graduate study experience, but GSK graduates also tout the school’s proximity to other top institutions. “New York City is a great place for a graduate student,” says Hunter. “With GSK, Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell coming together in the same field, you can share many seminars and interact with scientists from these different institutions. “

In addition to learning from their peers, GSK students take advantage of unparalleled career opportunities across the city. “Being in New York has been a huge advantage because as a PhD student in the life sciences it allows you to explore careers that are not often available to people elsewhere,” explains Monian. “There’s venture capital, consulting, other business-oriented careers. These companies come to the campus to recruit and give information sessions.

Then there is the city itself. GSK subsidizes student housing in his Upper East Side neighborhood, a boon for busy college students who have to drop by the lab to check their samples at odd hours. The program also hosts outings – hockey games, bowling in Brooklyn – to bring students together and provide a welcome respite from the routine of graduate school. Hunter took full advantage of his free membership in the New York Academy of Sciences, while LaFave joined the city’s bustling running community, competing in weekend 5k races in Central Park.

For LaFave, who returns to the city to run his own lab focused on using epigenomic technologies to study gene regulation in lung cancer, the GSK executive has been instrumental in his journey. “It was the perfect time in my life to make the transition from undergraduate to being able to live in New York City,” she says. “Whatever your interest, you can find something.”

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A growing power plant in New York

As new students move to New York this fall, GSK will continue to evolve and find new ways for individuals to immerse themselves in the biomedical sciences and find their own unique careers.

“GSK is well respected in many programs focused on the biology and biology of cancer,” said LaFave. “To me it’s pretty amazing, when I started at GSK there was no graduate student yet, but now you can see the success of the students and the high quality of science that is being made by graduates in the laboratories of GSK scientists and doctors the program is very successful.

To learn more about how to apply to the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, click here.

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