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Graduate Students Present, Practice and Network at Annual Symposium



Graduate Students Present, Practice and Network at Annual Symposium

By Cindy Brauer

A two-day event at Lake Arrowhead in California’s San Bernardino Mountains recently provided graduate students from both the California and Florida campuses of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) an opportunity to present their research, receive valuable feedback and spend relaxed time with faculty and peers.

“You notice how good the science at Scripps really is, and how committed to their research your peers are,” said second-year graduate student Jeishla Melendez-Mato.

More than 80 students presented their research at the 2015 Graduate Student Symposium—informally known as the “retreat”—held amid the cool pines and green lawns at Lake Arrowhead’s UCLA Conference Center.

Fourteen students delivered oral presentations to an assembled audience of faculty and peers, who later completed surveys evaluating the presenters on a variety of criteria. The scores were compiled to determine the outstanding oral presentation winners.

  • Julian Lo, fourth-year graduate student in the Baran lab, won first place. His research has helped develop a time-saving chemical technique that uses carbon-carbon double bonds as adhesive to “glue” together two halves of a molecule.
  • Max Ferretti, fourth-year graduate student in the Karbstein lab, was awarded second place. His research focuses on the assembly of ribosomes, the molecular machines that build proteins in cells, to better understand how healthy ribosomes function and how defective ones contribute to such human diseases as cancer.

In addition to the research talks, three poster sessions provided a forum for nearly 70 students to practice their communication skills, hear fresh perspectives on their research projects and occasionally establish relationships for future collaborations. In addition, “lightning rounds” challenged these students to deliver an oral summary of their research in just 30 seconds or less while using only one slide.

“Many students successfully found that a splash of wit and a focus on simplicity served them very well in this exercise,” remarked Dawn Eastmond, director of TSRI graduate studies.

The retreat’s program also included guest presentations by TSRI Professor Floyd Romesberg and 2006 TSRI alumna Stephanie Gupton, now assistant professor of cell biology and physiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“I enjoyed the various perspectives on individual topics from different backgrounds,” said Edward Grinman, a first-year student on the Florida campus. “I really enjoyed Dr. Romesberg’s presentation because it was a mesh of both [chemistry and biology] worlds.”

TSRI alumna Stephanie Gupton, for her part, found the event both invigorating and nostalgic.

“The expansion of graduate students into the neurosciences was exciting to witness,” Gupton observed. “Coupling this to the continuing leaps and bounds students are making in chemistry, structural biology and immunology research reminded me of what a unique and empowering place TSRI is for graduate research and career development.”

Next year’s Graduate Student Symposium will be held October 23-25, again at the UCLA Conference Center in Lake Arrowhead. For more details on the 2015 event, including several photo slideshows, visit the Student Symposium page on the Graduate Program Intranet at:

TSRI’s graduate program is widely recognized as among the best of its kind, consistently ranking in the top ten in the nation in biology and chemistry according to a U.S. News and World Report survey. For more information, see

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Katrina Tjung (left), second-year student in the Joyce lab, explains her research on cross-replicating ribozymes during a poster session at the recent Graduate Student Symposium.

Pramisha Adhikari (right), second-year student in the McDonald lab, gains feedback on her research on GPCR pharmacology during one of the symposium’s three poster sessions.

Song Qu (right), sixth-year student in the Wiseman lab, discusses his research on extracellular chaperone and protein-misfolding diseases with fellow students and faculty. (Photos by Jeremy Pyle.)