Showcasing stellar scientists-in-training: The Rising Stars Symposium at Sanford Burnham Prebys

| Written by Greg Calhoun
2024 Rising Stars speakers
From left to right: Mélise Edwards; Timothy Tan; Myeshia Shelby; Mario Alba; Thomas Martinez, Ph.D.; Rameen Shah, Ph.D.; Oluwatosin Obisesan; Catherine Rono; Evan Morrison; Jovita Daraezinwa; and Olabisi Osunmakinde.

The annual event brought 12 doctoral-degree candidates and postdoctoral fellows to the Institute to help nurture diversity in research and feature Rising Stars poised to move science forward.

Sanford Burnham Prebys recently hosted its third annual Rising Stars Symposium, a research meeting and networking opportunity for 12 postdoctoral candidates.

Thomas Martinez, Ph.D., headshot
Keynote speaker Thomas
Martínez, Ph.D., is an assistant
professor of Biological Chemistry
and Pharmaceutical Sciences at
the University of California, Irvine.

“If I could do another postdoctoral fellowship, I would do it here,” said David Brenner, M.D., president, CEO and Donald Bren Chief Executive Chair at Sanford Burnham Prebys, during his opening remarks. “I hope you feel very welcome here as part of the family.”

Following Brenner’s introductory comments, Ani Deshpande, Ph.D., associate professor in the Cancer Genome and Epigenetics Program at Sanford Burnham Prebys and associate director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Institute’s NCI-designated Cancer Center, introduced the symposium’s keynote speaker, Thomas Martínez, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biological Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, Irvine.

“I have read all the participants’ biographies, and it is clear you all truly are rising stars,” said Martínez. “Every journey in science is unique, but if you find great mentors, adopt an attitude of service and seek to engage with your community, that will carry you a long way.”

The 12 Rising Stars were then invited to give presentations on research they conducted during their graduate school training.

“I was really excited to share my research at Sanford Burnham Prebys,” says Rebecca Mello, a 2024 Rising Star and graduate student at the Scripps Research Skaggs Graduate School of Chemical and Biological Sciences. “It was an amazing opportunity to participate in such a prestigious event.”

Rebecca Mello headshot
Rebecca Mello is a 2024 Rising
Star and graduate student at the
Scripps Research Skaggs
Graduate School of Chemical
and Biological Sciences.

In addition to the full-day symposium, the Rising Stars took tours of the Institute, learned about its core facilities and shared research resources, networked with Institute scientists, and gained a better understanding of postdoctoral opportunities at Sanford Burnham Prebys.

“It was really lovely to meet many members of the faculty and staff,” adds Mello. “It seems like a really welcoming community and a well-equipped research institution.”

“When you compare the symposium to a normal recruiting visit where you might go to one lab and some core facilities, this event allows you to have many more interactions and leaves you with a much more complete understanding of the Institute and its collaborative culture,” says Evelyn Sanchez Hernandez, Ph.D., a 2023 Rising Star who joined Sanford Burnham Prebys as a postdoctoral associate in the Bradley lab and the Cancer Metabolism and Microenvironment Program. Hernandez moderated a session at this year’s event.

The 2024 Rising Star Symposium was sponsored by the NCI-designated Cancer Center and was planned collaboratively by the Institute’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Council; the Cancer Center’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) team; and planning and selection committees.

The planners are grateful for everyone who contributes to this Institute-wide effort, including workshop facilitators, panelists, the Communications team, the Research Administrative Services team and many volunteers.

“It made me proud to work here seeing the tremendous partnerships in action that make this symposium possible,” says Lauren Mitchell, M.S., program manager for DEIB at Sanford Burnham Prebys. “I think we were successful in shaking up the standard recruiting process and opening the eyes of both the Stars and attendees to new potential opportunities.”

Hernandez says, “This event is really important because it helps promote and foster more diversity in the scientific community, which is something I want to contribute to and help make happen throughout my career.”

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