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TSRI Celebrates 24th Commencement

Commencement 2016

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) held its 24th commencement ceremony on May 20, awarding graduate degrees to 36 students and presenting an honorary degree to Nobel Laureate Phillip A. Sharp.

After the ceremonial march across the California campus to the Auditorium at TSRI, Jamie Williamson, vice president of academic affairs and dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies, welcomed students, faculty, family, friends, supporters and guests and invited them to celebrate the joyous occasion.

TSRI CEO Peter Schultz was next to congratulate the graduating class and their families, adding personal remarks about his own time as a student and urging members of the graduating class to do what they love and to give back.

He also noted, “Scripps was built on great science and we are going to continue to grow that science... We not only want to make great discoveries, we also want to be involved in accelerating the benefit of those discoveries to human health.”

The Power of Science to Shape the Future

TSRI President Steve Kay then introduced Sharp, who is Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as founder of Biogen (now Biogen Idec) and Alnylam Pharmaceutics. A world leader in molecular biology and biochemistry, Sharp also served on TSRI’s Board of Scientific Governors for many years.

Kay noted that Sharp’s storied career had its roots in the research Sharp did for his own doctoral dissertation.

Sharp’s landmark achievement was the discovery of RNA splicing in 1977, for which he was later awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. This work provided one of the first indications of “discontinuous genes” in mammalian cells. The discovery showed that genes contain nonsense segments that are edited out by cells in the course of utilizing genetic information, advancing the understanding the genetic causes of cancer and other diseases. His lab has now turned its attention to understanding how RNA molecules act as switches to turn genes on and off (RNA interference). These newly discovered processes have revolutionized cell biology and could potentially generate a new class of therapeutics.

In his remarks, Sharp shared a personal perspective on his own scientific journey, as well as stressing the importance of science and technology for the future of the United States and countries around the world.

Recognizing the Graduates

Following Sharp’s address, the presentation of degree candidates began. One by one, faculty advisors stepped to the lectern to share his or her student’s impressive accomplishments, often adding an anecdote from the graduate’s experiences at TSRI.

TSRI’s rigorous doctoral program, which takes an average of five years to complete, consists of a year of classwork and rotation through laboratories, customizable to each student’s interests and long-term goals, followed by work on individual research projects under the guidance of a faculty mentor.

U.S. News & World Report currently ranks TSRI’s graduate program as second in country in the specialty of biochemistry, sixth in the specialty of organic chemistry, seventh overall in chemistry and ninth overall in the biological sciences, based on a survey of department heads, deans, directors of graduate studies, and other academics in each discipline.

While the commencement ceremonies officially granted the new graduates their degrees, many have already started or secured jobs at institutions including Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Penn State, Boston University, University of California (UC) San Francisco, UC San Diego, UCLA, the National Institutes of Health, Biogen Idec, Arcus Biosciences and other organizations and companies.

This article originally appeared in the May 23 edition of News & Views