Amgen Scholars Program
2014 Annual Report

The Amgen Scholars Program provides hundreds of young scientists across the globe with access to cutting-edge scientific research experiences at leading educational institutions through a 12-year, $50-million commitment from the Amgen Foundation. Since 2006, the Amgen Scholars Program has provided those engaging, hands-on opportunities for more than 2,500 undergraduates from across the United States and Europe. The experience has been deeply transformative for many Scholars, as is evident by their stories and their trajectories on to scientific degree programs and careers.

A Note from the Program Leadership

Since its beginnings in 2006, the Amgen Scholars Program has opened doors for aspiring undergraduate researchers in the life sciences and related fields.

Leadership Letter

Since its inception in 2006, more than 2,500 talented undergraduates have participated in the Amgen Scholars Program by undertaking hands-on summer research projects in science and engineering laboratories at 13 host institutions in the United States and Europe. And a growing cadre of Program alumni are going on to graduate school and scientific careers across the globe.

Since its inception in 2006, more than 2,500 talented undergraduates have participated in the Amgen Scholars Program by undertaking hands-on summer research projects in science and engineering laboratories at 13 host institutions in the United States and Europe. And a growing cadre of Program alumni are going on to graduate school and scientific careers across the globe.

As we see former Amgen Scholars—including scientific scholar Jonathan Stoltzfus—begin to realize their dreams of pursuing and completing their PhDs by taking the next step in their careers, we can’t help but feel proud. Stoltzfus’s experiences with the Program—and the impact he says it had on his career—suggest that we have succeeded in making a meaningful difference in participants’ professional pursuits.

The Program welcomed another batch of bright and talented undergraduates in 2014, giving them not only access to enterprising new research projects but, as in previous years, also certain intangibles that scientists need to succeed—such as opportunities to learn about careers and build long-lasting friendships with other budding researchers.

In late 2014, the Amgen Foundation announced the continuation—and expansion—of the Amgen Scholars Program through 2018, thanks to a generous commitment of $18 million. Joining the Program’s distinguished group of host institutions are the National Institutes of Health, Harvard University, ETH Zurich in Switzerland, Institut Pasteur in Paris, and, for the first time, Japanese institutions: Kyoto University and the University of Tokyo.

The past eight years have given us a new and inspired perspective on the Program as well as cause for even greater excitement because of the Program’s expansion. Welcome to the 2014 Amgen Scholars Program Annual Report, a timeline that highlights the scope of the Program’s impact.

Michael Bergren
Director
Amgen Scholars Global/US Program Office
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Karl Wilson
Administrative Director
Amgen Scholars European Coordinating Centre
University of Cambridge

Featured People

Reem Abdel-Haq

“The summer was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was definitely life changing.”

Host Institution

Stanford University

Undergraduate Institution

Brown University

Hometown

Simi Valley, California

Major

Biology

Born to Palestinian immigrants, Reem Abdel-Haq has tried to hold on to the unique ways of her family’s culture. But she has also felt torn between Middle Eastern and American traditions. Commonly, Arab women, including Reem’s mother, feel pressured to leave their educational paths and career aspirations at young ages to raise families.

Last summer, Reem got her first chance to try hands-on laboratory research—as a 2014 Amgen Scholar at Stanford, one of her top choices for graduate study. She wasn’t sure what to expect, she says, but when she arrived at the lab of Michael Snyder, she soon realized that scientists work collaboratively rather than in isolation. She was able to work independently but with plenty of mentorship and support.

And Reem got even more support upon returning to the Program house every evening after her day at the lab: in the form of 33 other Amgen Scholars, who were her housemates and friends. “The summer was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was definitely life changing,” Reem says.

Reem’s project focused on the sequencing of microRNAs, which are tiny bits of genetic material normally found in plants, animals, and some viruses and which are thought to silence the expression of genes. In particular, Reem came close to optimizing cutting-edge methods that scientists are starting to use in the study of microRNAs in single cells. But regardless of the result, the process was illuminating, she says. “The project demanded many long hours in and outside the lab, but I never thought of it as work, which made me realize that research is what I love to do,” Reem says. The experience challenged her to think critically about science and to answer her own questions before relying on others.

By summer’s end, Reem not only had become a miniexpert on the topic of her project but also came away with the confidence to pursue a PhD in the sciences, she says.

Reem aspires to blaze a path for other Arab American women by showing that a career in science is possible. So far, she has not encountered many Arab American women in the sciences—a fact she wants to change. “Once I establish my research career, I want to help Arab women build confidence to pursue STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] careers despite potential challenges and discouragement they may face in the future,” Reem says.

Nikola Doležalová

“The network of researchers and colleagues I created through the Program—and the experience I gained in Cambridge—helped me obtain a highly coveted spot in a PhD program.”

Host Institution

University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England

Undergraduate Institution

Charles University in Prague, Prague

Hometown

Tečovice, Czech Republic

Major

Molecular biology and biochemistry

At a young age, Nikola Doležalová participated in girl scouting in the Czech Republic, which seeded in her a love for the natural world. She and other girls would meet weekly to explore one of the forests near her small village of Tečovice or to clean up rivers, and in the process, they learned to identify many indigenous plants and animals.

As early as primary school, Nikola was drawn to chemistry and biology, but it wasn’t until secondary school—when she took a genetics course—that her love for biology really took off. Unraveling the mysteries of living things through their DNA was a new and fascinating challenge to her.

As an undergraduate at Charles University in Prague, Nikola was eager to take her interests to the lab to try independent, hands-on scientific research. The 2014 Amgen Scholars Program at the University of Cambridge “was really a perfect opportunity for a person like me from the Czech Republic to get experience in the lab, because I have limited opportunities here,” she says.

Nikola’s project in the lab of Kourosh Saeb-Parsy had the ultimate and ambitious goal of expanding available sources of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) because HSCs can be coaxed into forming blood cells for the treatment of leukemia and because the increasing numbers of HSC transplantations in recent years have created a shortage of cells.

One aspect of Nikola’s project aimed to determine whether HSCs from deceased organ donors could potentially serve as sources. Nikola was also pursuing the development of a safer and more efficient protocol for preserving the cells via freezing, because the standard methods are toxic to HSCs and can cause side effects in patients.

Nikola made good progress on both components of her project, but the biggest lesson she learned as an Amgen Scholar was that it takes a long time to do good science. “You spend most of the time troubleshooting, because it doesn’t work how you expected. That’s what no one tells you when you’re going into science,” she says, adding that she’s glad to know that now. Nikola’s realization has only heightened her enthusiasm for science. In fact, she plans to continue her work on improving preservation methods for cells—including human hematopoietic stem cells—as a PhD student in fall 2015 in Cambridge’s Department of Surgery. Although she’s still deciding on her career path, she hopes to run her own lab in academia, focusing on immunology or stem cells.

“The Amgen Scholars Program is not just an excellent opportunity to pursue summer research,” Nikola says. “The network of researchers and colleagues I created through the Program, as well as the experience I gained in Cambridge, helped me obtain a highly coveted spot in a PhD program.”

Imaani Easthausen

“The Amgen Scholars experience has given me so much confidence as a researcher.”

Host Institution

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Undergraduate Institution

Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson

Hometown

Minneapolis

Major

Biology

Imaani Easthausen had her sights set on a career in writing—until she began taking science classes at Bard College. For Imaani, science and, specifically, biology—as it related to the inner workings of the body—represented a new way of thinking about the human experience. For her, science was a way of exploring the question, What does it take to be sitting here, existing in this body, right now?

Imaani’s life journey as a gay woman of color hasn’t been—and still isn’t—easy, but good teachers and caring mentors throughout high school and college have helped her succeed. Her experiences have driven her to excel as a scientist and to want to help create a better society, especially for underserved and overlooked populations.

As a 2014 Amgen Scholar in the lab of Julian Martinez-Agosto at UCLA, Imaani delved into study of the Hippo signaling pathway, a cascade of interacting molecules that collectively control the growth of cells and regulate tissue and organ size. Mutations in the Hippo pathway are linked to a wide range of human cancers. Imaani’s project aimed to screen for drugs that could halt tumor growth caused by problems in Hippo pathway regulation.

Although Imaani had conducted hands-on research before, the field of molecular genetics and its techniques were new to her. The learning curve was steep, but “the mentorship was really incredible,” she says. “Dr. Martinez created a nurturing environment but also expected a high level of rigor from my work. He gave me an incredible amount of responsibility but at the same time gave support and help whenever I needed them.”

By the end of the summer, Imaani’s hard work had paid off. Her screening revealed a compound that could potentially be used to treat some cancers or inform other new therapies. Importantly, her findings were corroborated by previous work done in Martinez-Agosto’s lab. Although only a first step, “the results looked really promising,” she says.

Imaani plans to pursue an MD and a PhD in molecular biology, with her life experiences shaping the questions she asks in the lab and the ways she can improve others’ lives.

Imaani’s summer as an Amgen Scholar has been a big step toward meeting her professional goals by helping her think critically about science and become more independent in the lab. “The Amgen Scholars experience has given me so much confidence as a researcher,” she says.

Jonathan Stoltzfus, PhD

“I really enjoy mentoring young scientists to think critically and carefully about scientific problems.”

Host Institution

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), 2007

Undergraduate Institution

Messiah College

Hometown

Harrisonburg, Virginia

Current

Visiting Assistant Professor, Hollins University

Graduate Institution

Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

Graduate Degree and Research Area

PhD, cell and molecular biology, 2013

Jonathan Stoltzfus’s summer as a UCSF Amgen Scholar in 2007 confirmed his desire to become a scientist and catalyzed his career. As an early-career scientist in academia, he is now bringing to aspiring scientists the research opportunity he had as an undergraduate.

In 2006, as a rising junior in college, Stoltzfus got his first taste of independent scientific research when he journeyed to a rural part of Zambia, a landlocked country in southern Africa. His experiments at the Malaria Institute at Macha focused on how malaria—caused by a parasite that ravages red blood cells—affected children; and shadowing his adviser during rounds in the community hospital gave Stoltzfus a firsthand look. “Seeing children in comas and suffering from cerebral malaria drove home the purpose of my own experiments in the lab,” he recalls.

In Zambia, Stoltzfus’s day-to-day experiences doing research were frustrating. Electrical outages would thwart his experiments, and the scientists had to wait endlessly for supplies they needed.

By the end of the summer, Stoltzfus knew he liked research but wanted to try it in a well-equipped lab. The opportunities for cutting-edge hands-on research back home at Messiah College in Pennsylvania were few. That’s why Stoltzfus was thrilled to be accepted into the Amgen Scholars Program.

In the UCSF lab of Creg Darby, Stoltzfus studied the bacterium that causes the plague, Yersinia pestis, using the tiny worm Caenorhabditis elegans, a creature common to scientific laboratories. Working with then graduate student Kevin Drace, Stoltzfus was allowed to pursue his project with intellectual freedom, plenty of resources, and top-notch mentorship. “Kevin encouraged me to ask the why and how questions about my project and to begin to learn how to answer my own questions and design my own experiments,” he says.

Stoltzfus went on to conduct postbaccalaureate research at the National Institutes of Health and earned a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in four years. Since 2013, Stoltzfus has taught biology at Hollins University, a small liberal arts institution. Working with worms, Stoltzfus develops original research questions and encourages undergraduate students to tackle them to find answers as part of their laboratory courses or in dedicated research time.

Mentoring those undergraduates is an important focus for him. The style of mentorship that Stoltzfus received as an Amgen Scholar influenced how he in turn mentors students like Adeiye Pilgrim, a recent Hollins graduate. “I got excited by being able to do things on my own in the lab and make mistakes,” Adeiye says, adding that Stoltzfus’s mentorship and the environment he created in his lab solidified Adeiye’s desire to pursue research as a career, she adds.

“I really enjoy mentoring young scientists to think critically and carefully about scientific problems,” Stoltzfus says. “Watching them blossom as they gain confidence in their technical skills and understanding of the field is amazing and one of the best parts of my job.”

Editor's note: since reporting for this story, Jonathan has started a postdoctoral research position in the Department of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Linda Griffith, PhD

“The Amgen Scholars really are part of our research team. Even though they’re still learning, they’re doing experiments that could be game changing for some area of science.”

Linda Griffith, PhD

Director, Center for Gynepathology Research

School of Engineering Professor of Teaching Innovation, Biological Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

One of many lessons Linda Griffith tries to convey to students, including the four Amgen Scholars she has mentored through the years in her lab at MIT, is that being an engineer is empowering. “Life doesn’t always go your way,” she says. “But as an engineer, you can gain control over problems that in the outside world, you have no control over.”

That’s exactly what Griffith has done. In 2010, four months after undergoing major surgery as part of a lengthy battle with endometriosis, a painful disorder in which the tissue lining the uterus grows outside the uterus, she found out she had breast cancer. Instead of worrying about the breast cancer at the time of the diagnosis, she learned everything she could about the limits of clinical and basic research in the field.

Griffith’s personal experiences have transformed her research career, she says. In 2009, she launched the MIT Center for Gynepathology Research, which focuses on the study of diseases of the female reproductive tract that have received little attention, such as endometriosis. But she has long been recognized as a pioneer in the field of tissue engineering; her work in that area takes aim not only at regenerating new tissues but also at building models of disease to help identify and test new drugs. In 2006, Griffith received the MacArthur Fellows Program award. And in 2015, she shows no evidence of breast cancer.

Her own research experiences as an undergraduate were instrumental in Griffith’s decision to pursue a PhD, and she has all the while been deeply committed to undergraduate education, taking time outside the classroom and lab to facilitate career development workshops and to operate summer research programs. In the mid-1990s, together with several colleagues, she helped establish the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT and led the development of an undergraduate curriculum in biological engineering that would train students to harness the ongoing revolution in molecular life sciences for the benefit of society.

Griffith’s Amgen Scholars enter a bustling lab equipped with all of the resources and technical support they need to succeed. The time Griffith spends with her students is dedicated to helping them think about experiment designs and results interpretations.

Watching undergraduates realize they’re pushing the frontiers of new knowledge is one of the most gratifying rewards of mentoring, Griffith says. “The Amgen Scholars really are part of our research team. Even though they’re still learning, they’re doing experiments that could be game changing for some area of science,” she says.

Stanley “Brad” Bradshaw, a 2014 Scholar in Griffith’s lab and now a master’s student in biomedical engineering at the University of Miami, says, “Dr. Linda Griffith facilitated what has been my most rewarding research experience to date. She provides just the right balance of mentorship and challenge, of direction and freedom, of support and autonomy.”

Brad has learned crucial lessons from Griffith. One of them, he says, is: “Do not hesitate to ask others for help, consider diverse perspectives, and try to look at the situation from as many angles as possible. Only then can you find the best solution.”

Alumni Impact

Former Amgen Scholars are now pursuing advanced degrees in science or performing in careers in industry and academia.

Alumni Impact

778

Graduate school in
science
(master’s or PhD programs)

336

Science-based careers*

220

Professional school in
science
(MD and other programs)

111

MD-PhD programs

70

Non-science graduate school
programs or career

Current status of the 1,983 alumni who have completed undergraduate studies**

66 Completed PhD Programs

*Includes those who completed PhD programs
**Status as of October 2015. Note that 821 alumni are continuing undergraduates and not included in the table above, in addition to 499 alumni whose current status is unknown.

Areas of Science Graduate Study Pursued by Amgen Scholars Alumni

Biology/Genetics
31%***
Biochemistry/Chemistry
25%
Bioengineering/Biotechnology
18%
Virology/Pharmacology/Medicine
18%
Neuroscience/Cognitive Science
13%

***Total exceeds 100% because some participants identified more than one area of study.

Hear from Some of Our Alumni

More than

95%

of former Amgen Scholars who have completed their undergraduate study are now pursuing advanced degrees or careers in scientific fields.*

Alumni in Action

At an Amgen Scholars alumni event held at MIT in spring 2015, we asked former Scholars how the Program has affected their career paths. Here’s what they told us.

Megan Krench

Host Institution: MIT, 2008
Current Status: PhD candidate in neuroscience

MIT’s Megan Krench says the Amgen Scholars Program opened her eyes to possible science careers outside academia. Megan’s current research at MIT focuses on the biological underpinnings of Huntington’s disease. After graduation, she plans to join CBT Advisors, a boutique life sciences consulting firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Luvena Ong

Host Institution: Columbia University, Barnard College, 2009
Current Status: PhD candidate in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology

While in the Amgen Scholars Program, Luvena Ong got a firsthand look at what doing independent research would be like. Inspired by the Program and other experiences, she is now pursuing a PhD as a part of the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology, where she is developing and applying nucleic acid–based nanosystems.

Jack Bulat

Host Institution: University of California, Berkeley, 2010
Current Status: Research data coordinator at Boston Children’s Hospital

Jack Bulat says his experience at the Amgen Scholars US Symposium opened his eyes to the possibility of careers in biomedical research and health care. He is now a researcher in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Child and Young Adult Hip Preservation Program and plans to start medical school study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in fall 2015.

*Percentage is based on the current status (as of October 2015) of the 1,983 alumni who have completed undergraduate studies. Note that 821 alumni are continuing undergraduates and not included, in addition to 499 alumni whose current status is unknown.

Amgen Scholars Become Mentors

Some former Amgen Scholars return to their host institutions to embark on their PhDs. That gives them the opportunity to reengage with the Program—this time, as graduate student mentors to new Scholars.

Amgen Scholars Become Mentors

Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2008 Scholar Megan Krench is one of those who has acted as a mentor, taking on two Amgen Scholars during her time as a doctoral student at MIT. “I had a really positive experience with the Amgen Scholars Program, and I wanted to give back to the Program. It was a nice opportunity to show my appreciation,” says Megan, who expected to graduate with a PhD in brain and cognitive sciences in February 2016.

Soon after Megan began mentoring her first Amgen Scholar in 2013, however, “I realized I was getting a lot out of the Program all over again,” she says. Both Scholars came into the lab ready to work, and the excitement they showed was contagious, she adds. The Scholars helped Megan move her own PhD research along, providing an extra set of hands at critical times when she needed help, she says. For example, 2014 Amgen Scholar Kendall Kiser even piloted a new technique that Megan hadn’t had much experience with.

Learning how to teach productively and learning how to mentor effectively are crucial lessons in science. And they’re important jobs, too. “You’ve got them at this critical point [in their undergraduate years], when you’re helping them with their first experiments,” Megan says.

Having only ten weeks to show an undergraduate the ropes is especially challenging, says doctoral student Michael Einstein, a 2011 UCLA Scholar who is pursuing a PhD in neuroscience in the lab of UCLA neurologist Peyman Golshani.

Although the cutting-edge techniques Michael applies to study the neural basis of attention in Golshani’s lab are difficult to master in just a summer, he jumped at the chance to mentor 2014 UCLA Scholar Angela Avitua. To help tackle the technical challenges of his work, he carefully designed clear objectives for the project months ahead of time. And when Angela arrived, he teamed her with another summer undergraduate. Both of them succeeded in achieving valuable results.

“Overall, [mentoring] was an amazing experience,” Michael says. “What you see when you mentor someone from the Amgen Scholars Program is that the Program picks students with great potential and gives them a huge leg up in pursuing careers in science.”

Zach Wickens, a 2009 California Institute of Technology Amgen Scholar, mentored a 2014 Caltech Scholar visiting from Macalester College—a small liberal arts college in St. Paul that Zach himself had attended. Zach says he found the summer was productive and rewarding. “It’s really fun to have a person come in and then work together to develop critical-thinking skills as well as experimental techniques,” says Zach, who will soon finish his PhD in chemistry and chemical engineering. “These people are so smart, and they learn so quickly. It’s cool to see how far they come in ten weeks.”

The 2014 Symposia

Amgen Scholars Symposia—in the form of conferences held in Los Angeles for US Scholars and in Cambridge, England, for Scholars from throughout Europe—give Scholars much-needed perspective as they imagine potential careers in science.

Perspectives on the Path

In 2014, at the Program’s two annual Symposia, Amgen Scholars heard presentations by established scientists whose career trajectories embody advice regarding perspectives on the path to science careers.

US Symposium

Europe Symposium

The Symposia—in the form of conferences held in Los Angeles for US Scholars and in Cambridge, England, for Scholars from throughout Europe—set the Amgen Scholars Program apart from other summer research experiences. The gatherings give Scholars much-needed perspective as they navigate daily challenges in the laboratory and imagine potential careers in science.

“In college, you just learn about the science itself but not what you do day to day as a science researcher, which differs in academic, medical, and industrial settings. That was something I got to see through the Symposium and through the whole [Amgen Scholars] experience,” says Christopher Ayoub, a Washington University in St. Louis Scholar, who is studying biology and anthropology at Oberlin College.

In July, Christopher joined 263 other Scholars from ten host institutions in the United States at the University of California, Los Angeles, to hear presentations by leading scientists in industry and academia. The Scholars also took a day to visit Amgen’s Thousand Oaks, California, campus for a firsthand glimpse into biotechnology to actually see how new medicines get discovered, developed, and manufactured.

Linda Liau, a neurosurgeon and researcher at UCLA who has developed personalized vaccines for her patients suffering from an aggressive form of brain cancer, gave an inspiring and memorable talk about her professional journey. “Dr. Liau’s presentation was phenomenal,” says Massachusetts Institute of Technology Scholar Kendall Kiser of Brigham Young University. “Professionally, everything she has accomplished is that to which I aspire. She was also exceptionally approachable. After her presentation, she stayed to speak one-on-one with Scholars, including me.”

Another viewpoint that Scholars gleaned from the Symposium is that there’s no single “right” career route. “That was encouraging and reassuring because at the time, I was really unsure what I wanted to do,” Christopher says. He has since decided to pursue an MD/PhD, although—in part inspired by the Symposium—he is open to change.

The Europe Scholars, 75 in total from three host institutions, gathered at the University of Cambridge for their Symposium in early September. The students heard engaging talks by preeminent scientists, including David Baulcombe and Margaret Stanley of the University of Cambridge and Patrick Baeuerle, former vice president of research and site head at Amgen Research Munich. The students also networked with one another over poster presentations of their summer research.

“Several of the talks and experiences shared by the faculty members as well as conversations with fellow Scholars left me with clearer ideas about how to approach a career—and a life—in science,” says Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Munich Scholar Virgínia Casablancas Antràs, who studies biomedical sciences at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain.

In particular, Virgínia took away from the Symposium the notion of the importance of exploring different areas and working hard to find the one that suits you. Likewise, “We shouldn’t be afraid of failure, and mistakes and bad outcomes are necessary parts of even the most successful paths,” she says.

Previous Annual Reports

Learn about the history of the Program year by year.

Alumni Impact

Former Amgen Scholars are now pursuing careers in industry and academia.

Alumni Impact

694

Graduate school in
science
(master’s and PhD programs)

200

Science-based careers

213

Professional school
in science (MD and other programs)

98

MD-PhD programs

101

Non-science graduate school
programs or career/unknown**

Current status of the 1,306 alumni who have completed undergraduate studies*

450 Completed PhD Programs

Status as of June 2015. Note that TBD alumni are continuing undergraduates and not included in the foregoing table, in addition to TBD alumni whose current status is unknown.

Areas of Graduate Study Pursued by Amgen Scholars Alumni

Bioengineering/Biotechnology
31%
Biology/Genetics
28%
Biochemistry/Chemistry
25%
Neuroscience/Cognitive Science
14%
Virology/Pharmacology/Medicine
12%
Other Science Programs
8%

Areas of study for alumni and current graduate students in the sciences.
Total may exceed 100% because some participants identified more than one area of study.

Maithreyi Raman

“Science was a constant factor in my life. I always loved it no matter which school or which syllabus I was in.”

Host Institution

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Munich

Undergraduate Institution

Imperial College London

Hometown

Bangalore, India

Major

Biochemistry

Working on an extended assignment in her Singaporean high school, Amgen Scholar Maithreyi Raman first confronted the realities of hands-on research when she explored the role of color vision in foraging by ants. Among the blind spots she navigated as a beginner: finding out that most species of ants are blind. Luckily, hers happened to have eyes.

Maithreyi was born and raised in India but lived in many places throughout her childhood, because her family moved from sunny Malaysia to modern Shanghai, to quaint and picturesque England. Although it was difficult to constantly adjust to new schools and making new friends, Maithreyi was keen to absorb the cultures and languages of her new surroundings. And throughout the changes, “science was a constant factor in my life,” Maithreyi recalls. “I always loved it no matter which school or which syllabus I was in.”

After completing her ant project and graduating from high school, Maithreyi was certain she wanted to pursue scientific research in college and was accepted to study biochemistry at her home university, Imperial College London. But as an undergraduate, getting her foot in the door of a lab was difficult—same as it is for many who are just starting out.

That’s why Maithreyi was excited to earn a place in the 2013 Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) Amgen Scholars Program, where she joined Franz-Ulrich Hartl’s group to investigate cellular models of Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder caused by the clumping of huntingtin proteins. With the hope of identifying novel therapeutic strategies, the project investigated several different proteins that could potentially alleviate the clumping. “I find disease-related research to be extremely rewarding because you have the opportunity to lay the groundwork to affect society as a whole for future generations,” Maithreyi says.

The people working in Hartl’s lab and Maithreyi’s postdoctoral mentor “were so encouraging, and you could just feel the passion everybody had,” she says. While there, Maithreyi also had the opportunity to expand her professional network via her mentor and by attendance at various events available to Amgen Scholars at LMU. For example, by attending an international conference hosted by LMU for early-career scientists and speaking with several of her mentor’s colleagues, she learned what makes for fulfilling and successful PhD study.

The Amgen Scholars experience sealed Maithreyi’s desire to go on to graduate school, where she hopes to study neuroscience and biochemistry. “Before Amgen Scholars, I really wasn’t sure whether graduate school was the right decision for me, because I knew I didn’t have much experience,” she says. “The life-changing moment of the summer was the realization that I love this and can do it.”

Mobolaji Fowose

“I’m glad I had this experience, because it taught me patience. I learned the importance of being meticulous. You have to work at it until it works.”

Mobolaji Fowose

Host Institution

Washington University in St. Louis

Undergraduate Institution

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Hometown

Baltimore

Major

Biology

As a child, Amgen Scholar Mobolaji Fowose and her family traveled back and forth to the United States from their hometown outside Lagos, Nigeria. They were in and out of hospitals, seeking a diagnosis and treatment for her younger sister, who, as a baby, had bacterial meningitis and began to have recurrent seizures.

Mobolaji’s early exposure to clinical settings is one reason Mobolaji became captivated by science and medicine, she says. When she was 11, her family settled in the United States permanently to get care for her sister, who was eventually diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a brain disorder that affects muscle movement and motor skills. Even with access to better hospitals, there was nothing the family could do to reverse the symptoms: they confronted limits to what basic and clinical research had revealed about the disorder. Mobolaji wanted to change that—in particular, by getting involved in brain research. “I knew I wanted to be an integral part in discovering something or adding to scientific knowledge,” she recalls.

At her home institution, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Mobolaji conducted HIV-related research, and for one spring semester, she worked in a Penn State University lab in the areas of skin care and prevention of alcohol abuse. She applied to the 2013 Amgen Scholars Program to get another taste of research—this time, in neuroscience. “I wanted to explore research in neurology, and I knew going to Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) would afford me that opportunity,” she says.

Working in Jeffrey Zacks’s lab at WUSTL, Mobolaji investigated whether pupil size correlates with how people with posttraumatic stress disorder predict ongoing events. At first glance, the project seemed straightforward—a matter of setting up the lab’s new eye tracker equipment and running subjects—but Mobolaji soon learned how frustrating real science could be. Charged with creating a new software program so the eye tracker could take specific types of measurements, Mobolaji and her mentor battled a variety of technical setbacks. Two weeks before summer’s end—and close to the point of tears—Mobolaji was finally able to gather data.

The Amgen Scholars Program at WUSTL also enabled Mobolaji to get a firsthand look into the school’s clinic: with permission to step outside the lab, she shadowed during his rounds at St. Louis Children’s Hospital a physician researcher who specializes in pediatric hematology and oncology. “It was amazing to see the medical side of things. This gave me renewed energy every time I left the clinic and went back to the lab.”

Now in her senior year studying biology, Mobolaji plans to pursue graduate work in public health, medicine, and research—with the goal of combining research with clinical work in underserved or poverty-stricken areas. Her summer as an Amgen Scholar, she says, has set her up well for achieving those goals. “My experience was amazing,” she says. After leaving Washington University, I knew I was capable of conducting research and had also learned that it can be fun.”

Nathan Phillips

“I have had opportunity after opportunity to talk to scientists, in academia, industry and non-profits, and it has only confirmed my interest in pursuing a graduate degree and has reinforced my passion for science and research.”

Nathan Phillips

Host Institution

University of Washington

Home Institution

Eastern Washington University

Hometown

Spokane, Washington

Major

Biology and biochemistry

During late high school and early college, Amgen Scholar Nathan Phillips suffered from four sports-related concussions in an 18-month period. After the last injury, doctors told him he had postconcussion syndrome and that there was a chance his brain would never fully heal. Nathan struggled through his college classes—sleeping up to 17 hours a day and finding it impossible to focus—before withdrawing from school.

During the next few years, he had several jobs. “During that time, I had the opportunity to reflect on my future and make a commitment to what I wanted it to look like,” he says. I gained a work ethic and resilience.” By the time he started working as an athletic director and teacher at a private school, Nathan had made a full recovery. At 27 years old, he decided to return to college, enrolling at Eastern Washington University.

Instead of majoring in music and theology as before, Nathan loaded his schedule with courses in science—a field he had only recently become intrigued by from watching popular science programs on television and reading a biology textbook. “The first quarter, I was taking general chemistry, biology, calculus, and physics,” he says. “I was working hard and I was busy, yet it was still the greatest experience.” That’s when it clicked for him: he would pursue a career in science. He became involved in genetics research in the labs of Andrea Castillo and Robin O’Quinn at Eastern.

Nathan’s experience in Matt Kaeberlein’s lab as a 2013 Amgen Scholar at the University of Washington enabled him, for the first time, to focus on independent hands-on research without having to simultaneously juggle course work. He worked with his postdoctoral mentor to learn the impact of genetic mutations on life span in worms and in yeast and to research whether specific proteins could be introduced to lengthen life span. “The question that we’re asking hadn’t been asked before,” he says. Getting to watch the project develop was awesome. In addition, Kaeberlein’s weekly lab meetings—which 60 or so lab members attended—were fascinating to Nathan because he got to see how his own project fit in with the lab’s larger goals.

The Amgen Scholars Program also exposed Nathan to a range of careers available after graduation. “I have had opportunity after opportunity to talk to scientists in academia, industry, and nonprofits; and it has only confirmed my interest in pursuing a graduate degree and reinforced my passion for science and research,” he says. Nathan plans to apply for medical and graduate programs, with the hope of conducting translational research in neuroscience and genetics. “Without a doubt, I will look back on the [Amgen Scholars] experience and know that it prepared me to be a better scientist,” he says.

Vladan Martinović

“In science, there are no limits to where I can go.”

Host Institution

University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, 2010

Undergraduate Institution

University of Belgrade, Belgrade, Serbia

Hometown

Zrenjanin, Serbia

Major

Biochemistry

Current

PhD candidate, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England

Even as a little boy growing up in a small village outside Zrenjanin, Serbia, Vladan Martinović knew he wasn’t going to stay in his family’s town—or in Serbia. He soon began to envision science—and biochemistry in particular—as his passport to exploring the world. “In science there are no limits to where I can go—both geographically and intellectually,” he says.

During high school, Vladan participated in educational programs at a nearby science education center; and as an undergraduate at the University of Belgrade, he majored in biochemistry. But getting access to the resources for an independent project was a struggle for students. In an already crowded lab, “you [would be] seen as in the way,” he says. “It wasn’t easy.”

Even though Vladan eventually to worked in a lab one summer on a project he and a friend had proposed themselves—study of the biological activity of copper complexes, which might one day be considered as treatment for diabetes—he felt he needed an international perspective of science. As an Amgen Scholar, Vladan got his first chance to conduct research in a different country, working with geneticist Cahir O’Kane at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England, to study hereditary spastic paraplegia, a progressive and incurable motor neuron disease characterized by weakness and spasticity of the lower limbs. In his budding career as a scientist, “the Amgen Scholars Program was one of the most important things that has happened to me,” he says. “I realized that I enjoy working in the lab on independent projects that tackle serious scientific problems.”

Almost everything Vladan experienced as an Amgen Scholar was new, from speaking English in the lab to maintaining the fruit fly colonies the group used for research. But the similarities in the ways labs are run in academia were comforting. “More and more, outside my home country I realize how similar people are,” he says. After that summer, he adds, “I realized I wouldn’t have any problem living and working as a scientist in a foreign country.”

Vladan returned to Belgrade and secured another international undergraduate research experience—this time in Australia. But when it came to graduate school, Vladan decided to go back to Cambridge, working in Harvey McMahon’s lab to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying cell communication. In fact, he had learned about McMahon’s work during his time as an Amgen Scholar and visited the researcher’s lab that summer to see whether it might be a good fit for him as a PhD student. “Having done a project as an Amgen Scholar, I had previous research to present to Dr. McMahon; and I knew what I wanted from a PhD lab,” he recalls.

Having earned his PhD, Vladan looks forward to starting a postdoc in yet another new country and, possibly, a career in academia. He doesn’t see himself returning to Serbia anytime soon—in part because science is not as well funded there as it is in other places—but also because he wants to continue to explore. After conducting research as an Amgen Scholar, “I don’t feel country or culture bound,” he says.

Randy Schekman, PhD

“If you are serious about research, it’s good to see different styles. The Amgen Scholars Program offers that opportunity—to go to a different place and see different problems and approaches.”

Randy Schekman, PhD

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology

University of California, Berkeley

Winner of 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Growing up, Randy Schekman was always enthusiastic about math and science. But the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine—for his fundamental work showing how proteins move within cells and are secreted—first developed a passion for bench biology as an undergraduate.

In his sophomore year at the University of California, Los Angeles, Schekman joined the lab of Dan Ray, who was studying chromosome replication in bacteriophages—viruses that infect bacteria. At the time, Ray was starting out as an assistant professor and working in the lab himself. Schekman recalls: “He took the time to talk with me and show me how to do things. I got good exposure to techniques and the details, the logic of doing an experiment and using bacteria.”

Amgen Scholars typically learn to conduct hands-on research in much the same way: by working closely with faculty mentors as well as postdoctoral researchers and graduate students. Regardless of who does the training, getting the chance to conduct experiments is crucial at the undergraduate level, says Schekman, who has welcomed many undergraduates into his own lab. “Anyone who has a serious interest in doing laboratory research really has to have exposure to it as an undergrad,” Schekman says. “You can’t possibly know what graduate school is about unless you’ve worked in a laboratory.”

Schekman mentored 2008 Amgen Scholar Charlotte Seid, who is now a graduate student in biology at MIT. “My summer as an Amgen Scholar in Randy’s lab was a tremendous opportunity, and he was such a wonderful mentor and role model,” says Charlotte.

The Amgen Scholars Program materially expands research opportunities for students who don’t have access to high-quality lab opportunities at their home institutions as well as for those who have already had research experience. As an undergraduate himself, Schekman broadened his skill set by studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where he ultimately decided to pursue graduate study. “If you are serious about research, it’s good to see different styles,” Schekman says. “The Amgen Scholars Program offers that opportunity—to go to a different place and see different problems and approaches.”

PhDs and Beyond

Amgen Scholars From

2007
to 2008

are now earning doctoral degrees at prestigious universities.

PhDs and Beyond

In December 2013, US Amgen Scholars alumna Seychelle Vos embarked on a new professional adventure: she took a one-way flight to Germany to begin a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen.

Seychelle was one of 237 students who participated in the inaugural year—2007—of the Amgen Scholars Program. From that group, Scholars Jonathan Stoltzfus, Elisabeth Krow-Lucal, and Joel Leibo along with Seychelle have already earned their doctoral degrees. Many others in the first cohorts are also climbing the ranks in science and looking ahead to life after graduate school.

“The Amgen Scholars experience definitely prepared me for graduate school,” says Joel, who successfully defended his PhD in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences in September 2013. As a 2007 MIT Amgen Scholar—then visiting from nearby Brandeis University—Joel was in the same research group where he eventually earned his PhD. “In some ways, the Amgen experience really was the start of my PhD research. I was introduced to research areas as well as whole ways of thinking about science that I would not have encountered as an undergraduate otherwise,” he says.

The program was crucial for helping certain Scholars like Seychelle to decide to pursue doctoral degrees in the first place. As a rising senior at the University of Georgia in Athens, George, Seychelle was accepted into the UC Berkeley Amgen Scholars Program. “I was thrilled at the chance to be able to go to Berkeley and do research,” she says. There she worked with Rachel Brem in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, manipulating yeast genomes to learn how gene expression profiles varied among cells.

More excited and more motivated than ever to do basic scientific research, Seychelle immediately applied to PhD programs when she returned to Georgia in the fall. “Going through the Amgen Scholars Program helped make that decision really clear for me,” she says. For Seychelle, jumping into research at the earliest opportunity meant more time generating new knowledge.

Considering doctoral programs on the West Coast and in Europe in 2008, Seychelle picked the same department at UC Berkeley she had been in as a Scholar—joining James Berger to understand how a class of enzymes called topoisomerases, essential for DNA replication, are regulated in bacteria. Her graduate career resulted in several publications.

Finishing graduate school is an exciting stage in life because there are so many career possibilities, says 2009 University of Cambridge Scholar Abigail Perrin, who is due to finish in 2014. Abigail plans to continue a career in science, studying the molecular mechanisms underlying neglected tropical diseases. “I think many of us nearing the end are feeling a little intimidated about the future,” Abigail says. “However, many opportunities are open to us, and there are lots of people to help us along the way.”

Amgen Scholars from 2007 and 2008 are now earning doctoral degrees at prestigious universities, including the following alumni:

Akrita Bhatnagar
PhD in Pharmacology from
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
2008 Amgen Scholar at UCSD
Spring 2014*

Jose Corleto
PhD in Biomedical Sciences from
University of California, San Diego
2008 Amgen Scholar at UCSF
Spring 2014*

Elisabeth Krow-Lucal
PhD in Biomedical Sciences/Immunology from
University of California, San Francisco
2007 Amgen Scholar at UCSD
Winter 2014*

Joel Leibo
PhD in Computational Neuroscience,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2007 Amgen Scholar at MIT
Fall 2013

Darren Miller
PhD in Neuroscience from
University of Kentucky College of Medicine
2007 Amgen Scholar at UCSD
Spring 2014*

Jonathan Stoltzfus
PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology from
University of Pennsylvania
2007 Amgen Scholar at UCSF
August 2013

Seychelle Vos
PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology from
University of California, Berkeley
2007 Amgen Scholar at UC Berkeley
December 2013

*Anticipated

The 2013 Symposia

For a scientist, especially one in training, time spent outside the lab can be just as insightful—and, potentially, transformative—as time spent in it. The Amgen Scholars Program offers its participants a unique chance to expand their professional horizons by connecting with others, including those in both industry and academia.

The 2013 Symposia

“It was neat to get on the [Amgen] campus and see the labs where the research is actually happening,” says Matthew McBride, a UCLA Scholar. “It put into my mind more of an image of big biotech rather than its being an abstract idea.”

Matthew McBride, UCLA Scholar

US Symposium

Europe Symposium

For a scientist, especially one in training, time spent outside the lab can be just as insightful—and, potentially, transformative—as time spent in it. The Amgen Scholars Program offers its participants a unique chance to expand their professional horizons by connecting with others, including those in both industry and academia.

Two-day events held in Los Angeles for US Scholars and in Cambridge, England for Europe Scholars, the Program’s annual Symposia enable Amgen Scholars to meet one another, talk science, and learn more about the myriad career possibilities in academia and industry.

In 2013, for the first time in the Program’s seven-year history, 250 US Scholars from 10 host institutions got an inside look at Amgen’s Thousand Oaks, California, headquarters—an experience that was invaluable for many. The Scholars met scientists working in a range of areas in drug development, from medicinal chemistry to manufacturing. They also toured the campus and got a firsthand look at Amgen’s pilot plant and molecular modeling room. Another rare treat: hearing from Amgen’s CEO Robert Bradway, who spoke with the students about the power of biology to improve patients’ lives.

“It was neat to get on the [Amgen] campus and see the labs where the research is actually happening,” says Matthew McBride, a UCLA Scholar. “It put into my mind more of an image of big biotech rather than its being an abstract idea.”

Upon to returning to UCLA for the remainder of the Symposium, US Scholars also heard an inspiring talk by Charles Craik of the University of California, San Francisco, about life as an academic researcher and the many available career paths open to PhD-level scientists.

“[The Symposium] got me really excited about science,” Matthew says. “I walked away from that weekend really excited about pursuing a PhD in the sciences and conducting biomedical research.”

Much like its US counterpart, the Europe Symposium included lectures by prestigious scientists in industry and academia such as Margaret Stanley and Ken Smith, as well as opportunities to network with former Scholars. Students also presented their summer’s work on posters, using the sessions to meet one another. “The Symposium helped me develop confidence in presenting my work and gave me the opportunity to meet other, like-minded young scientists from across Europe,” says University of Cambridge Scholar Helen McKinstry of Queen’s University Belfast. “It was an experience I believe will prove invaluable as I look toward building a career in research.”

A Note from the Program Leadership

The year 2013 was a rewarding one for the Amgen Scholars Program.

Leadership Letter

“If you are serious about research, it’s good to see different styles. The Amgen Scholars Program offers that opportunity—to go to a different place and see different problems and approaches.”

Randy Schekman

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
University of California, Berkeley

Those words reflect the personal experience of Amgen Scholars faculty mentor Randy Schekman, professor of molecular and cellular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Since its beginnings in 2006, the Amgen Scholars Program has opened doors for aspiring undergraduate researchers across the globe who are studying life sciences and related fields. As an undergraduate himself, Schekman expanded his skill set by studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where he ultimately decided to attend graduate school.

To date, more than 1,200 Amgen Scholar alumni have gone on to graduate school or careers in science in countries worldwide. And a growing number of alumni from the Program’s earlier years—including Seychelle Vos—are now realizing their dreams of graduating with PhDs in science. Looking back, Seychelle says her decision to pursue graduate study was pivotal: “Going through the Amgen Scholars Program helped make that decision really clear for me.”

Other Amgen Scholars have enjoyed similar clarities through the Program. In summer 2013, Maithreyi Raman had the chance to research cellular models of Huntington’s disease at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Munich. The experience was transformative, leaving Maithreyi newly resolved to study neuroscience and biochemistry at the graduate level. “The life-changing moment of the summer,” she says, “was realizing that I love this and I can do it.”

The Amgen Scholars community continues expanding worldwide. In 2013, the Program welcomed 331 more bright and talented undergraduates, giving them the resources and mentorship needed to thrive in cutting-edge research projects. Under the guidance of prominent academic scientists, Scholars complete 8 to ten weeks of full-time summer research at 13 world-class institutions in the United States and Europe.

We are proud to share key highlights of the 2013 Amgen Scholars Program, including more examples that underscore the impact that the Program has on young researchers.

Welcome to the 2013 Annual Report.

Michael Bergren
Director
Amgen Scholars US Program Office

Duncan Maskell
Director
Amgen Scholars European Coordinating Centre

Alumni Impact

Former Amgen Scholars are now pursuing careers in industry and academia.

Alumni Impact

694

Graduate school in
science
(master’s and PhD programs)

139

Science-based careers

176

Professional school
in science (MD and other programs)

67

MD-PhD programs

162

Non-science graduate school
or career/unknown**

Current status of the 1,306 alumni who have completed undergraduate studies*

450 Completed PhD Programs

Status as of June 2015. Note that TBD alumni are continuing undergraduates and not included in the table above, in addition to # TBD whose current status is unknown.

Areas of Graduate Study Pursued by Amgen Scholars Alumni

Neuroscience/Cognitive Science
14%
Biomedical Engineering
12%
Biology
11%
Chemistry
11%
Biochemistry
9%
Bioengineering/Biotechnology
9%
Biomedical Science
9%
Molecular Biology
9%
Immunology/Public Health
7%
Biostatistics/Biophysics
4%
Genetics
3%
Other Science Programs
2%

Areas of study for alumni and current graduate students in the sciences.
Total may exceed 100% because some participants identified more than one area of study.

Prisma Lopez

“The Amgen Scholars Program gave me the chance of a lifetime as an undergraduate that would not have otherwise been available to me.”

Prisma Lopez

Host Institution

Columbia University

Undergraduate Institution

University of Connecticut

Hometown

Stamford, Connecticut

Major

Molecular and Cellular Biology

During her summer as a 2012 Amgen Scholar at Columbia University, Prisma Lopez asked herself, “Is research something I want to pursue as a career?” Her experiments—which aimed to characterize the biomolecules of an embryonic stem cell that give it innate immunity from viruses—weren’t working. Her graduate student mentor, in the lab of Stephen Goff, guided her through the frustrations and explained that they’re typical in science. Then with many tweaks to her assays and some patience, Prisma became able to get her experiments running.

Despite the challenges, Prisma’s experiences in the lab and the additional enrichment the Amgen Scholars Program provided—such as an inspiring talk by Martin Chalfie, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and another Amgen Scholars faculty mentor—boosted her confidence and strengthened her desire to pursue research as a career. “The Amgen Scholars Program gave me the chance of a lifetime as an undergraduate that would not have otherwise been available to me,” says Prisma, a junior studying molecular and cellular biology at the University of Connecticut.

Science—whether in the lab or in medicine or in space—wasn’t always on Prisma’s radar. When she was three years old, she moved to Connecticut from a small village in Mexico, where there hadn’t been many chances to dream big. But even after establishing a life in the United States, she remembers feeling discouraged. “When I was six years old, I thought, ‘There’s no one who looks like me who’s a doctor or an astronaut,’” she recalls.

Throughout her upbringing, that perception gradually changed as her family—and her father in particular—took her to school events such as a moving talk by Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter and memorable museum trips. Her father’s main message was that Latinas and other underrepresented minorities can, and do, have successful careers. “He wanted me to have a dream to do something important not only for myself but also for other people,” she says.

Enthusiastic about becoming an academic scientist, Prisma plans to apply to graduate school to study immunology or developmental biology. She also hopes to inspire young women interested in science. “Succeeding in my field and profession as a woman and a minority is very important to me because it is my chance to be a role model for girls just like me,” she says.

Mohammed Abdelrahim

“The Amgen Scholars Program gave me the confidence that I could think like a scientist.”

Host Institution

University of California, San Diego

Undergraduate Institution

Columbia University

Hometown

Sewell, New Jersey

Major

Biochemistry

Amgen Scholar Mohammed Abdelrahim’s first glimpses of science began in his early childhood, with late-night trips to the hospital so that doctors could treat his younger brother, who was born with alternating hemiplegia of childhood (AHC). AHC is a rare neurological disorder characterized by loss of body control, seizures, and slowed mental development, among other symptoms. Only about one in a million people have the disorder.

“Despite all the advances that have been made in science, my brother’s correct diagnosis was still a lengthy process that required collaboration among many clinicians and researchers,” Mohammed recalls. That often-frustrating experience convinced Mohammed that there remained many questions to be answered in science and medicine. A returning senior majoring in biochemistry at Columbia University, Mohammed received one of his first chances to embark in research as a University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Amgen Scholar in 2012.

In the lab of renowned geneticist Fred Gage at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, a neighboring research institution that collaborates with UCSD to train researchers, Mohammed studied how human adult cells such as skin cells convert into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are similar to embryonic stem cells in that they can differentiate into most other cell types. Powerful new tools for studying neurons and other cells that would be difficult to take from a living person, iPSCs were created by scientists in 2006 and led to a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012.

Gage’s group was one of the first to use iPSCs to model disease, and Gage also made the important finding that new neurons are produced throughout a person’s life.

Ranging from the research experience to extensive programming for UCSD Amgen Scholars that provides opportunities to network with other students and learn about scientific writing, “the Amgen Scholars experience is the whole package,” Mohammed says. The summer culminated in a trip to the University of California, Los Angeles, campus for the Amgen Scholars US Symposium, which, Mohammed says, “widened my field of view to many disciplines and career paths.”

Mohammed planned to pursue an MD-PhD and study congenital neurological disorders after graduating in 2013. He was off to a good start. “The Amgen Scholars Program gave me the confidence that I could think like a scientist,” he says. “I feel I have a better understanding of how to plan experiments and get past setbacks and roadblocks.”

Mohammed’s research experiences as an Amgen Scholar also taught him that science requires persistence and patience. And it so happened that while he was working away in Gage’s lab, his patience paid off: scientists in North Carolina discovered that mutations in one particular gene, called ATP1A3, caused AHC, the disorder affecting his brother. “It is an event that, coupled with my experience this summer, has strengthened my resolve to never give up,” he says.

Audrey Chia

“The Amgen Scholars Program was exciting because it made me feel part of the bigger scientific community.”

Host Institution

University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England

Undergraduate Institution

University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland

Hometown

Singapore

Major

Evolutionary Biology

At the end of her freshman year of college, Audrey Chia trekked through a Honduran forest to study howler monkeys—in particular, how much time they spent feeding, resting, and howling. In her third college year, on one of Spain’s Canary Islands, she navigated through a variety of different environments—from hot and dry plains to damp, cloudy forests—to study exotic plant species and their diverse physical adaptations to the varied surroundings. “My experiences exposed me to the diverse ways plants and animals adapt to the environment they live in, and that sparked my interest in having a deeper understanding about them,” she says. The fieldwork was a physical and mental challenge, however, involving travel to remote locations, rugged working conditions, and long days of data collection whose success was largely bound to the weather.

By the summer before her senior year, Audrey was excited to have the opportunity to try evolutionary biology research in a temperature-controlled greenhouse and insectary as an Amgen Scholar at the University of Cambridge.

Studying under faculty mentor Chris Jiggins, Audrey’s project investigated whether two distinctly patterned sister species of butterflies tend to mate with others of the same wing-color pattern, and the genetics underlying those choices. The end goal was to understand whether gene and behavior differences could lead to eventual speciation between the two types of butterflies.

Studying behavior even in a controlled environment was not without its challenges, however. For example, subtle changes in the temperature of the greenhouse where the butterflies were housed seemed to influence the butterflies’ daily moods. If the insects didn’t court or mate, then Audrey couldn’t gather data. “The only thing we could do was be patient,” she says, and collect a few data points at a time.

In the end, working to overcome such obstacles was well worth it. Audrey learned molecular techniques for studying genetics, and she capped off the summer by presenting to other Amgen Scholars and faculty her final results, which showed that butterflies of a particular pattern indeed tended to court and mate with others of a similar pattern.

From the seminars to the scientific research itself, to the Symposium, “the Amgen Scholars Program was exciting because it made me feel part of the bigger scientific community,” Audrey says. In particular, her conversations with peers in the Program helped boost her scientific communication skills. “The Program enabled me to gain a good understanding of what I was doing and to learn how to communicate it to others—even up to the Symposium,” she says. Now, those skills are being put to good use as she works on a research project as part of her honors thesis.

The Amgen Scholars Program also opened Audrey’s eyes to what graduate school is like, and she plans to pursue a PhD in evolutionary biology. “I realized after these two months that a PhD is in my plans,” she says.

Trinidad Cisneros

“The Amgen Scholars Program is unique from other [summer research] programs in that you become a part of a larger community, and that feels awesome.”

Host Institution

University of Washington, 2009

Undergraduate Institution

California State University, Los Angeles

Hometown

Los Angeles

Major

Biology

Current

PhD candidate in immunology, Stanford University

After graduating from high school, Trinidad Cisneros spent seven years immersed in social work and social service, helping families in crisis find emergency housing and social services. He also counseled children with emotional and behavioral difficulties. And he even volunteered in a hospital emergency department, serving as translator and caregiver.

When Trinidad was 25, he was nearly finished earning a bachelor’s degree in social work at San Francisco State University. He was passionate about the work he was doing, and it was easily filling his days and nights. “It was important for me to get involved and help others, because I know poverty firsthand, having grown up in projects in East Los Angeles,” he says. “I witnessed many things that as an adult I wanted to change.”

Trinidad’s experiences growing up and volunteering kept fueling his desire to improve human health. “I thought one way to have a broader impact [on health] would be through medicine or research,” Trinidad says. So he went back to school at California State University, Los Angeles, in 2007 to start over as an undergraduate in biology. As he learned more and more about careers available to PhD-level scientists conducting basic, clinical, and translational research, Trinidad began to picture himself potentially helping others in such a fulfilling position. The only catch was that he had no research experience, and there weren’t many chances to get started at his college. Then, in 2009, a door opened: he applied and was accepted to the University of Washington Amgen Scholars Program. Working alongside faculty mentor Merrill Hille, he studied the role of protein CDC42 in cell migration and spinal cord formation during zebrafish development.

Research was even better than he had imagined, Trinidad says. He also soon realized that science was more of a team effort than he had expected, and he was looking forward to working with others to advance his scientific work.

Trinidad’s participation in the Amgen Scholars Program paved the way for subsequent fellowships, including one at Harvard Medical School that would enable him to try different aspects of biomedical research as an undergraduate. The experience also helped him gain acceptance into graduate school. Now a second-year graduate student at Stanford University, Trinidad is in Olivia Martinez’s group, where he is conducting research to understand immune responses to stem cell–derived hepatocyte (liver cell) transplants.

Trinidad has kept in touch with his Amgen Scholars cohort and continues meeting other Scholar alumni. “The Amgen Scholars Program is unique from other [summer research] programs in that you become a part of a larger community, and that feels awesome,” he says. Trinidad is also still committed to service—this time to inspire others to pursue science as a career. He mentors two Stanford undergraduates conducting research in his lab, and he volunteers with the Stanford Science Bus, an after-school science program for elementary school children run by students at Stanford.

After graduation, Trinidad plans to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship and a career as an academic scientist so he can collaborate with clinicians to help fill the gap between bench and bedside. Although his own work aims to improve lives, “There’s something tangibly rewarding about helping individuals face-to-face,” he says. “And it’s giving back for the mentorship and opportunities I’ve received.”

Candace Rypisi

“I love hearing students tell me about their work. They know I’m not a scientist, but they can explain to me what they’re doing and why it’s important. It’s rewarding to see them grow.”

Candace Rypisi

Director of Student-Faculty Programs

California Institute of Technology

We put a lot of emphasis on Amgen Scholars’ ability to communicate their science. They write two progress reports and produce an abstract that gets published in an abstract book. They write a final paper and give a final presentation. That’s a lot of writing and talking in ten weeks, but they grow as a result of it.

Behind the Scenes at the Caltech Amgen Scholars Program

The Amgen Scholars Program lasts a mere ten weeks at California Institute of Technology, but planning the Program and other summer research experiences takes a full year.

That’s Candace Rypisi’s role. As director of student-faculty programs at Caltech, Rypisi and her team hold program information sessions for students, evaluate program applications, and build the summer schedule with faculty seminars and career development panels.

Rypisi has seen 151 Amgen Scholars—including 26 Scholars in the 2012 cohort—through the Caltech program since the program’s launch seven years ago. “I absolutely love my job,” Rypisi says, because she gets to blend the best aspects of Caltech: the research and the amazing faculty and undergraduates.

We asked her what students take away from the Program, and here’s what she said.

How is the Caltech Amgen Scholars Program different from other student research programs you direct?

We see the Amgen Scholars Program as a smaller cohort experience that focuses on biology and chemistry. We have 25 students each summer; half are from Caltech and the other half are visiting students from universities across the United States.

Scholars spend most of their time in the lab, but they come together weekly for meetings that emphasize science and research. They attend socials throughout the summer. Then, of course, there’s the focus on biotechnology that the Amgen Scholars Symposium gives the students.

Is it hard to choose among the applicants?

It’s so hard. Because of the way we conduct the application process, we get far fewer than the other host institutions. We average about 50 to 60 applications a year, but the applicants are stellar.

It doesn’t mean that all of them have done research before. In fact, we get a number of students from small liberal arts schools or students who haven’t done research before. But there’s something that faculty see in them, through the process of talking about the work, getting to know each other, and deciding whether they want to work together.

Do you spend time building soft skills like writing and presenting? What about providing networking opportunities?

We put a lot of emphasis on Amgen Scholars’ ability to communicate their science. They write two progress reports and produce an abstract that gets published in an abstract book. They write a final paper and give a final presentation. That’s a lot of writing and talking in ten weeks, but they grow as a result of it.

The networking component is also important. We talk to Scholars about the importance of networking and cultivating relationships in a variety of settings and at many levels. From one-on-one meetings with faculty to going to the beach and hanging out with other Amgen Scholars—all of this is considered in our broad definition as networking.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Around week six or seven, I love hearing students tell me about their work. They know I’m not a scientist, but they can explain to me what they’re doing and why it’s important. It’s rewarding to see them grow. It’s also gratifying, after seven years, to see students go on to finish graduate work. Many of our Amgen Scholars alumni have also won really amazing awards—for example, Rhodes Scholarships.

Do Amgen Scholars come back for graduate school at Caltech?

Eight Amgen Scholars alumni have come to graduate school here. Actually, yesterday morning at a local coffee shop, I ran into one of them; he’d been up all night working on a proposal. It’s great to know that this was a place they really enjoyed and wanted to come back to.

Christoph Turck, PhD

“The Amgen Scholars Program actually gives students hands-on experience in the lab, which is so key if you want to pursue research.”

Professor Christoph Turck, PhD

Proteomics and Biomarkers Research

Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry

Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Christoph Turck has been captivated by chemistry since the time he was a teenager tinkering with a chemistry set in his parents’ basement. As a doctoral student in chemistry at RWTH Aachen University in Germany, he was synthesizing peptides—small bits of protein that are crucial for cell function—when biology suddenly piqued his interest. That led Turck to pursue postdoctoral research in biology—in a lab headed by a cellular immunologist at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in New Jersey.

The experience of working with cells was totally new for him, but he was excited about the goal, which involved purifying and characterizing a protein with important immunologic functions. He continued to combine his chemistry and biology expertise as a faculty member at the University of California, San Francisco, where his group mapped cell-signaling events at the molecular level.

Now head of proteomics and biomarkers research at the Max Plank Institute of Psychiatry and professor and Amgen Scholars faculty mentor at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) in Munich, Turck still sees himself as a protein chemist, even though his work—which is in the development of protein biosignatures pertinent to psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression—sits at the intersection of basic and clinical research.

Turck has mentored four Amgen Scholars in the past three years and has signed up to advise another in the coming cycle. “It’s a great opportunity for them and for us,” he says. “They learn quickly because they’re outstanding,” and they make meaningful contributions to the lab, he adds. Conversely, the students learn in a unique setting at the institute, where basic and clinical research units and the hospital are under one roof. “This gives them a great perspective on what medical research is all about and where they may fit in best.”

Turck’s ultimate aim is to find better diagnostics and better treatments for psychiatric disorders. Molecular indicators, or biomarkers, of disease can provide a way to group patients who stand the best chance of benefiting from a particular therapy.

Being a 2011 Amgen Scholar in Turck’s lab strengthened Julia Reinert’s resolve to pursue a PhD after finishing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biochemistry at the University of Cambridge in 2013. Turck is a “brilliant scientist and mentor,” Reinert says. “He was always approachable and happy to give input. He cultivates a friendly and welcoming lab.”

Even though Turck’s group has grown in recent years and he’s no longer at the bench, he’s still strongly committed to training the next generation of scientists. He teaches a biochemistry methods course at LMU—and of course takes newcomers into his lab every summer. “As an undergraduate, you’re mainly attending courses; and everything is kind of theoretical,” he says. “The Amgen Scholars Program actually gives students hands-on experience in the lab, which is so key if you want to pursue research.”

The 2012 Symposia

The Amgen Scholars Program Symposium gives budding scientists two days packed with networking, talks by academic and industry leaders, and career advice—constituting an experience that undergraduates in most summer research programs simply don’t have. In mid-July 2012, more than 250 Amgen Scholars from ten host institutions across the United States gathered at the University of California, Los Angeles, to kick off the 6th Annual Amgen Scholars US Symposium. A few months later, 75 Amgen Scholars from three host institutions across Europe met at the University of Cambridge in England for their own Symposium.

The 2012 Symposia

“I will always remember the Europe Amgen Scholars Program Symposium as one of the major events that shaped my life.”

Iva Filipovic

2012 Karolinska Institutet Scholar from the University of Belgrade in Serbia

US Symposium

Europe Symposium

Before starting their summer research projects, many Amgen Scholars are already considering pursuit of a PhD in the sciences. During their research, they get a picture of what daily life is like as a scientist. And by Symposium time, they’re totally immersed in scientific inquiry. Then the Amgen Scholars Program Symposia give those budding scientists two days packed with networking, talks by academic and industry leaders, and career advice—constituting an experience that undergraduates in most summer research programs simply don’t have.

In mid-July 2012, more than 250 Amgen Scholars from ten host institutions across the United States gathered at the University of California, Los Angeles, to kick off the 6th Annual Amgen Scholars US Symposium. A few months later, 75 Amgen Scholars from three host institutions across Europe met at the University of Cambridge in England for their own Symposium. “I will always remember the Amgen Scholars Europe Symposium as one of the major events that shaped my life,” says Iva Filipovic, a 2012 Karolinska Institutet Scholar from the University of Belgrade in Serbia.

And, of course, there was plenty of cool and timely science. At the Europe Symposium, Derek Smith, professor of infectious disease informatics at the University of Cambridge in England, provided an insider’s view of a recent controversy behind risky research projects involving highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses. Smith’s talk—in addition to a talk by Amgen’s Ian Haynes about the development of a novel bone therapy for cancer patients—was popular among Europe Amgen Scholars, including Iva. “I learned more about how to get a product from bench to bedside and realized what all the challenges that come along that path are,” she says. “It was helpful to discuss current limitations and complications we are facing.”

The Symposia offer a much-needed chance for Scholars to step back and think more broadly about their research interests and professional goals. More than the social and networking events, Symposia meetings provide a sense of the many different pathways available to PhD-level scientists in addition to giving them a deeper understanding of biotechnology and drug discovery and development. Scholars hear from leading experts in academia and industry on such topics, and they share results from their summer projects.

For University of Washington Amgen Scholar Maya Sangesland, the keynote lectures and discussions with industry and academic scientists at the Symposium made her certain about getting a doctoral degree. “I was able to weigh the pros and cons of pursuing a PhD, and I realized this is a career I would very much like to pursue,” she says.

Other Scholars came away with higher-level views of drug discovery and development and how they would fit in. “Although I have worked on some drug delivery projects, I did not truly get a sense for the entire process until the Symposium,” says Scholar Peter Nguyen, a junior majoring in molecular biology and science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who added that the Symposium got him excited about the field.

The US Symposium concluded with a moving keynote address by renowned researcher James Heath of California Institute of Technology, who talked about his career spanning numerous fields—including solid-state quantum physics and cancer—and the roles of teachers and collaborators in his success.

Heath gave “great advice,” says Stanford Amgen Scholar Joy Franco, a senior studying mechanical engineering at San Jose State University in California. One of Heath’s lessons that resonated with Joy and other Scholars is that “fights are won round by round,” meaning that many individual experiments collectively move the field forward. That is, to fully realize the importance of an entirely new finding—in Heath’s case, discovery of the molecule buckminsterfullerene—takes time, patience, commitment, and belief not only in the project’s value but also in the scientist’s ultimate goal.

A Note from the Program Leadership

The year 2012 was a rewarding one for the Amgen Scholars Program.

Leadership Letter

“To be great at anything you have to practice, practice, practice. That is true for scientists as well, and the Amgen Scholars Program gives students a chance to practice research in some of the best institutions with some of the best people, and that is invaluable experience and vital to the future success of young scientists.”

Charles Craik, PhD

That comment comes from Amgen Scholars faculty mentor Charles Craik, professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of California, San Francisco.

Featured in our annual report, a cohort of scientists in training—334 talented and motivated undergraduates—used the summer of 2012 to take on new intellectual challenges and solve critical problems in science through the Amgen Scholars Program. Some of them, like 2012 Columbia University Scholar Prisma Lopez, had previously and briefly tried scientific research but were seeking another environment in which to explore; for others, like 2009 Scholar Trinidad Cisneros, the lab experience was entirely new. Regardless, a scientist’s early experiences at the bench will not only build skills but also color individual perceptions in science for years to come.

The Amgen Scholars Program recognizes the meaning of such early lab experiences, and as Craik says, gives promising undergraduates the setting and the time they need to learn about research through independent, hands-on projects. Scholars complete eight to ten weeks of full-time summer research in 13 world-class institutions in the United States and Europe under the guidance of prominent academic scientists. Since its debut in 2006, student interest in the Program has surged, enabling the Program to admit top undergraduates who go on to join a growing international network of 1,807 alumni.

In 2012, we celebrate the tremendous success of the Amgen Scholars Program in this interactive annual report. The report’s data speak volumes. Of Program alumni who have already graduated, 85% have moved on to advanced degrees or careers in science.

Ultimately, hard numbers do not fully capture the Amgen Scholars summer research experience. Most compelling is the recounting of those rewarding and often transformative experiences by the Scholars themselves. As you delve further into this annual report, we invite you to hear firsthand how the Program continues to cultivate and inspire tomorrow’s leaders in science.

Michael Bergren
Director
Amgen Scholars US Program Office

Tony Minson
Director
Amgen Scholars European Coordinating Centre

Annual Report

2011

View the PDF

Annual Report

2010

View the PDF

Annual Report

2009

View the PDF

Annual Report

2008

View the PDF

Annual Report

2007

View the PDF