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Future scientific leaders share interdisciplinary advances at graduate student retreat

The annual Chemistry-Biology Interface (CBI) training program retreat featured talks from current trainees, a keynote from Sangeeta Bhatia, and a workshop for future applicants.

The Chemistry-Biology Interface (CBI) Program, Stanford ChEM-H’s flagship training program, held its fifth annual treat on June 21, 2021. Over 122 attendees met over zoom to enjoy research talks from graduate students, a keynote address from MIT professor Sangeeta Bhatia, and a workshop for undergraduate students interested in applying to graduate school.

CBI student Uche Medoh begins talk with slide saying "Uncovering the Molecular Function of CLN5 in Batten's Disease." Below the title is "2021 ChEM-H CBI Retreat, Uche Medoh, Abu-Remaileh Lab."
CBI student Uche Medoh begins his talk at the CBI retreat. Image Credit: Beth Sefton.

“The CBI Program enriches the educational and research landscape of Stanford. It is the jewel in the crown of ChEM-H,” said Chaitan Khosla, the founding director of Stanford ChEM-H, who serves as a faculty mentor for the program. Khosla, the Wells H. Rauser and Harold M. Petiprin Professor in the School of Engineering and professor of chemical engineering and of chemistry, stressed the importance of sharing and celebrating the work of the interdisciplinary trainees. “The most valuable learning that happens when you are a PhD student happens when you experience first-hand the sausage-making process of drawing upon multiple disciplines to achieve scientific breakthroughs,” he added.

At the event, current CBI students gave talks about their research in areas like vaccine development, neurological diseases, and cancer immunotherapy. For the students hearing about projects far from their field of study, the diversity of research presented was an asset rather than a drawback. “Even if I can’t be fluent in all the different fields represented by CBI, there is value in being able to think like another scientist, in going through their design and troubleshooting process, even if only for the length of a single talk,” said Tara Murty, a Stanford ChEM-H O'Leary-Thiry Graduate Fellow in biophysics.

“It is amazing to have this support system and source of inspiration as I carve out where I want to go with my career and think about the kind of short-term and long-term impact I want to have on human health,” said Murty, who is also pursuing an MD through the Medical Science Training Program.

Following six student talks was the keynote from MIT professor Sangeeta Bhatia, who discussed her lab’s work in developing a noninvasive way to diagnose or track tumor recurrence in mice. Bhatia described her group’s strategy of releasing patrolling nanoparticles into the bloodstream. These nanoparticles, upon encountering cancerous cells, release a molecule that can be detected in the mouse’s urine.

During in-person retreats of years past, CBI students hosted a small group of undergraduates from local colleges and universities. The virtual format of this year’s retreat allowed organizers to expand the scope, with current trainees hosting 15 students from institutions across the country. These prospective CBI applicants participated in a workshop about the graduate school application process and the graduate experience at ChEM-H. This was followed by smaller sessions led by faculty and students that centered around three themes: transitioning from undergraduate to graduate student, fostering a welcoming and supportive community, and prioritizing wellness during graduate school.

“I think experiences like these help students feel included and show them that science--academia, medicine, and research—is their space,” said Murty. “I hope they see how engaging and supportive this environment is, and that they can see themselves being in our shoes, if they choose to fill them.”


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