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Philanthropic Support Launches Class of 2016, Builds Legacy for Future Students

Graduate school is expensive. If there’s a Ph.D. after your name or you’re currently pursuing your doctoral degree, this comes as no surprise. What often astonishes everyone else is the fact that none of the costs are passed on to students. In fact, doctoral students in the sciences are actually paid to attend graduate school. Tuition and books are covered, as is healthcare, and students receive a stipend to cover housing and living costs.

Why are students paid to attend graduate school? At least in part, it’s because laboratory research is difficult and painstaking work, with graduate students spending long hours in the lab in pursuit of a doctoral degree. In the process, they’re helping advance the research program of their faculty advisor (also known as principal investigator, or PI) and contributing to the larger body of scientific knowledge.

Still, somebody has to pick up the tab. At The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), the Office of Graduate Studies covers the first year of a graduate student’s costs. From the second year onward, all costs are paid by the student’s advisor.

Ask a group of TSRI faculty members and you’ll find an almost universal desire to mentor graduate students. It’s something they fervently believe in and receive great satisfaction from. Shouldering the cost, however, can be daunting when virtually all of a PI’s operating funds are derived from a shrinking pool of federal research grants. This is where fellowships come in.

When a student applies for and is awarded a graduate fellowship, an external funding source replaces the funds provided by the faculty advisor, funds that can instead be used to achieve the lab’s research objectives.

Fellowship sources vary widely. The National Science Foundation offers fellowship opportunities each year, and indeed three TSRI graduate students each recently won one of these prestigious awards. In fact, 10 percent of all current TSRI graduate students have received one of these awards, an impressive accomplishment in its own right. Groups focused on a specific disease or condition, such as the American Heart Association, are another source of fellowship funding. Two of the fastest growing pools of research fellowships, however, are private foundations and individual donors.

“Philanthropic support for our doctoral students has helped make TSRI one of the nation’s top centers for graduate education in biology and chemistry,” said Jamie Williamson, Ph.D., dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies. “This support makes it possible for TSRI to recruit outstanding young scientists, thus contributing directly to the quality and impact of the entire TSRI research enterprise.”

New Generosity, New Opportunities

In recent months, TSRI’s Graduate Program has received generous fellowship donations from several philanthropic sources. In June, the Farris Foundation renewed its 2015 student fellowship on TSRI’s Florida campus, expanding its support by endowing the fellowship for years to come. In the same month, the Skaggs family built upon its long and generous history of supporting TSRI by endowing a new graduate fellowship through the ALSAM Foundation.

Fellowships for graduate students have become essential investments in the long-term future of translational research. As the outstanding young investigators in TSRI’s Class of 2016 demonstrate, such funding pays off by generating discoveries, strengthening faculty research, and broadening institutional impact.

In fact, of the 36 new Ph.D. scientists who received degrees from The Scripps Research Institute at its 24th commencement ceremony on May 20, nearly one quarter launched their careers with support from private donors who understood the importance of graduate education in the biomedical sciences.

Getting to Know the Researchers

Many donors to TSRI’s Graduate Program take a personal interest in the work of their beneficiaries, and the resulting friendships make the institute’s research mission come alive for supporters. For example, the ARCS Foundation’s San Diego Scholars program, which has funded TSRI graduate students for 20 years, regularly schedules events to help donors and students become acquainted.

“We invite the Scholars to speak at our meetings,” said TSRI/ARCS University Liaison Kim Doren, “and they invite us to campus to tour their labs. When we see the enthusiasm and the passion they have for their science, we know that these are people who are going to change the world.”

Unlocking New Doors of Discovery

For recipients, fellowships can provide the impetus and resources required to explore uncharted research terrain. Daniel Murin pursued two intersecting lines of inquiry as an Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation (EBSF) Fellow: tracking new therapeutic agents for Ebola and other viral pandemics by uncovering new applications for antibody images produced by electron microscopy.

Introducing Murin at this year’s commencement ceremony, one of his faculty advisors Andrew Ward praised the new Ph.D. scientist for his discoveries related to antiviral lines of attack. Ward noted that, when National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins asked Congress in 2015 for increased Ebola research funding, “he specifically mentioned Daniel’s work, saying, ‘It’s important to know where these antibodies actually bind to the protein and how they would interfere with Ebola’s ability to infect cells.’”

Murin believes that his EBSF fellowship gave his research career an early and powerful boost. “This support awarded me many more opportunities to speak at and attend conferences where I have been able to network,” he said. “It will assist me in applying for postdoctoral fellowships as well as grants.”

As he moves toward his ultimate goal of being a principal investigator, Murin will continue to draw on the prestige of his EBSF award. “It is an invaluable addition to my professional resume,” he said. “I will always be grateful to the foundation for its confidence in my potential for success as a research scientist and also for its long-standing commitment to basic scientific research and education.”

For both donors and students, TSRI fellowships help forge an alliance that brings the research enterprise closer to the public it seeks to benefit. Alice Brown, the ARCS Foundation’s vice president for university relations, has taken great pride in the work of Jessica Bruhn since Bruhn was named an ARCS Scholar in 2013. “I attended Jessica’s dissertation defense, and it went very well,” said Brown. “It has been wonderful to watch her self-confidence increase over the past three years.

“Jessica is a Scripps Research superstar,” Brown added with a smile, “and she is our superstar.”

Scripps Education Reporter

Edition 5, Summer 2016


Edition 5 Home
TSRI Celebrates 24th Commencement

Graduate Faculty Profiles 
New Philanthropic Fellowships
Alumni Website Update
2016 DiVERGE Dates Announced
Catching Up with TSRI Alumni



Learn More About Ways to Support TSRI









ARCS Foundation with Graduate Student Rigo Cintron-Colon

ARCS Foundation members Kim Doren (left) and Alice Brown (right) with TSRI graduate student Rigo Cintron-Colon in the laboratory of Bruno Conti.
(click to enlarge)








Daniel Murin

Graduate student Daniel Murin at the 2016 Commencement Ceremony.









Daniel Murin

Graduate student Jessica Bruhn at the 2016 Commencement Ceremony.