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Program Objectives

Objective 1 is to provide rigorous training in the theoretical foundations and modern techniques in Molecular Biophysics research. Trainees critically review current literature in a broad range of topics so as to become familiar with the pressing unsolved problems in biomedical research. They delve deeply into structural biology and macromolecular function and dynamics in two full quarters of graduate coursework that involves specific training in scientific rigor. The scientific breadth of our faculty exposes our trainees to diverse techniques and provides opportunities for students to combine different approaches to answer their own scientific questions. We cultivate a collegial environment across the program, encouraging intellectual exchange and collaboration between labs from many departments, and measure our success by the number and quality of research publications produced by our trainees. Our goal is for 100% of our trainees to complete the coursework in rigor and reproducibility, and for 90% of our trainees to score in the top quartile among their peers in each graduate program on their 2nd year qualifying exam and Advancement to Candidacy exam.


Objective 2 is to create and sustain a diverse and inclusive graduate student training environment so that trainees from different backgrounds and disciplines can come together and exchange ideas in a supportive, yet intellectually challenging environment. We value diversity in the MBTG program and the UCSD community, and we have developed approaches to increase the cultural, racial, and social diversity in the MBTG Program. An example of these efforts is diversity training for all students and faculty (Table 6A, Recruitment Plan to Enhance Diversity, and Trainee Retention Plan). Faculty and trainees are required to submit a “contributions to diversity” statement when they apply to UCSD and to the MBTG. Our goal is to maintain a high level of diversity by recruiting and retaining at least 20% of students from underrepresented groups in each year’s class, and for these trainees to have a graduation rate >90%.


Objective 3 is to provide strongly interdisciplinary training in Molecular Biophysics that emphasizes creative thinking and communication skills. MBTG trainees come from several graduate programs and have undergraduate degrees in everything from Physics to Biological Sciences. Through opportunities to share their interests with others, including the monthly Student Seminar, Journal Club, Yearly Retreat, and informal exchanges, the trainees learn from each other and broaden their scientific horizons. A new programmatic emphasis on practicing professional skills including teamwork and science communication will enable the trainees to develop fluency in expressing their ideas, as well as a fearless attitude towards learning new approaches. Our goal is for our trainees to complete their training within 5.5 years of entering graduate school and for at least 75% of our trainees to continue on in a research-intensive career.


Objective 4 is to train the next generation of scientific leaders who have the drive and confidence (we call it the “no fear” approach to science) to develop and apply the newest approaches in Molecular Biophysics to important biomedical questions. MBTG trainees will be exposed to topical questions and cutting-edge approaches through first year coursework that emphasizes critical reading of current literature across a wide range of biomedical research and attendance at seminars by well-known researchers applying biochemical and biophysical approaches. Throughout their two years on the training grant, trainees attend a monthly journal club that continues to expose them to important problems. Because of the diversity of research interests of our trainees, the journal article topics range widely. During the yearly retreat, trainees, and particularly our alumni trainees who are still in training but no longer funded will participate in a research idea brainstorming session. This will help them hone their ability to identify and attack important research questions once they graduate. Our goal is for 90% of our students to publish two or more—and 100% of students to publish at least one—first- author, peer-reviewed, and research-focused publications prior to attaining their Ph.D.


Objective 5 is to promote the career advancement of our trainees, to hone their communication skills, and to introduce them to a broad range of career choices. MBTG trainees have access to PhD scientists from the La Jolla mesa who are in biotech, research institutes, and who have started their own companies. These mentors have volunteered to discuss career options with the trainees either one-on-one or as part of the career workshop in the yearly retreat. MBTG faculty member Thomas Hermann, as part of his role as Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in the Physical Sciences Division, has spearheaded the development of the new Student Success Center. This center provides career counseling, internship opportunities, job fairs and interview prep for graduate students in Biochemistry and Biophysics (among other fields). Our goal is for trainees to take advantage of these opportunities in order to be ready for their next career steps when they graduate.