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First Year of Ph.D. Program Underway

World-class doctors draw students

Akop Seksenyan was working in the Cedars-Sinai research laboratory of neurosurgeon Keith Black, M.D., before he got his bachelor's degree in neuroscience from UCLA two years ago.

Now, as a student in Cedars-Sinai's new graduate program in biomedical sciences and translational medicine, Seksenyan is rotating through other laboratories at Cedars-Sinai.

"I'm fascinated with neuroscience, but I've always been interested in immunology," said Seksenyan. "A week from now, I might run into someone who's doing something in cardiology and change my mind about what I want to focus on."

That diversity is also what drew Maricel Gozo to Cedars-Sinai. She previously worked as a research assistant investigating leukemia at Harvard Medical School.

"Other programs typically don't provide access to broader topics and other fields," she said. Few institutions offer degrees in translational medicine, and most programs focus just on one discipline - immunology, for example. "That just felt kind of limiting to me," Gozo said.

This is the first degree-granting program offered by Cedars-Sinai. Students of the four-year curriculum receive an annual stipend plus benefits; there is no tuition. Those enrolled in classes already have their undergraduate degrees, usually in the sciences, and several applicants were research assistants working at Cedars-Sinai.

The nine students enrolled in the program have access to both clinicians and researchers as they study a variety of diseases from different perspectives. The curriculum allows for the "seamless integration of Cedars-Sinai's research, education and clinical missions," said Shlomo Melmed, M.D., senior vice president, chief academic officer and dean of the faculty.

Seksenyan looks at that integration as an advantage if he decides to pursue medical school.

"Most students don't have that bridge between basic sciences and clinical medicine," he said.