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Monday, Jun 5, 2023

Funding Boosts Program for Helping Biotech Field

A program at Cal State University Northridge designed to help educate some of the state’s future biomedical researchers has received more than $2.7 million to expand. The funding for MARC (Minority Access to Research Careers) comes from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences division of the National Institutes of Health. The program started in 1990 with four students, but with its cash infusion it will be able to enroll 14 students during the coming year. “This program exists because there is a huge disparity in the number of ethnic minorities who are Ph.D.s,” said Program Director Maria Elena Zaldivar. “For example, in all of the science and technology areas, somewhere between six and eight percent of all Ph.Ds are ethnic minorities.” While enrolled in the program, students have the chance to participate in long-term research projects in order to prepare for the rigors of graduate and doctoral programs, and they’re given a stipend to present their results at scientific conferences. Since the beginning of the program, every enrolled student has presented results at scientific conferences. Staff members also mentor the students, providing graduate school preparation and every student starting a Ph.D. program has won five-year fellowships to complete doctoral programs in their fields. CSUN’s program prepares its undergraduate students to go into some of the top scientific doctorate programs. Students have gone to successfully complete doctoral programs in schools like Stanford University, Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley. “If you think about the general population that enters Ph.D. programs, somewhere between 50 and 55 percent of students typically complete them,” said Zaldivar. “Our students complete their programs at a rate of more than 90 percent.” Ten of the CSUN program’s former students have already completed their doctorates, while another 16 are in programs right now. Although the program’s students have such a high rates of success once they enter they’re post-graduate programs, Zaldivar said it takes some convincing to get most students to join programs outside of Los Angeles. “What’s really interesting is that with most of the students, we have a hard time prying them loose from L.A.,” she said. “But the programs that they might be interested in usually aren’t in the city.” Returning students can find work in Los Angeles in some cases, but the bulk of the biotechnology businesses in California remain situated in the San Francisco Bay Area and near San Diego. So far, none of the students have settled in Los Angeles to start their careers, although one former student has taken a job near San Diego, and another is employed in Orange County near the University of California at Irvine. Others have ended up with job offers from firms in the Midwest. One student currently in a doctoral program is interning at Medtronic MiniMed, however. Although Los Angeles still looks impressive when compared with other parts of the country, its major educational institutions and biotech employers like the University of Southern California, UCLA and Amgen have not managed to spin off very many independent businesses. Funding for startup biotech companies has also dropped over the past several quarters. The Los Angeles region has maintained its national reputation, however, in the biomedical device industry. The businesses, which tend to be more mature and rely less on venture capital funding and technology transfer from research universities, have thrived. As the former CSUN student working at Medtronic MiniMed may already be finding, the jobs that Los Angeles can offer its scientific job-seekers will likely be in medical devices.

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