A Word from the Director

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PIBBS Director, Dr. Ite Laird-Offringa

Welcome to our PIBBS web site! My goal as PIBBS director is to bring top-notch PhD students to USC, and to see them succeed fabulously as young scientists. As their publication records attest, our students lay a strong foundation for their future careers, whether that be in an academic setting, in biotech, or any other field related to science.

For those of you who are repeat visitors to the site, you may notice some changes. These are due to improvements we are making to better serve our students. Whereas we previously had two interdisciplinary PhD programs into which most of our students entered, we have now expanded that to four interdisciplinary PhD programs that capitalize on research strengths at USC. The new programs will replace the two existing programs beginning in the summer of 2014. The programs are, in alphabetical order:

Cancer Biology & Genomics (CBG), which capitalizes on the presence of our Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and its clinical and basic scientists, and strength in all areas of cancer research including epigenetics and epidemiology.

Development, Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine (DSR), which benefits from our Center for Regenerative Medicine and strength in stem cell research, tissue engineering and regeneration.

Medical Biology (MEDB), a highly translational program that takes advantage of our outstanding clinical and basic scientists who investigate human organ systems in health and disease and are developing strategies translate this knowledge to medical treatments.

Molecular Structure and Signaling (MSS), a program that builds on faculty expertise in structural biology of proteins, lipids and nucleotides and the signaling mechanisms in which these molecules play a role.

Faculty membership of these programs is driven by their research interests and crosses disciplines and departments. After their PIBBS rotation year, students join a laboratory of their choosing and the PhD program that best fits their research topic. While most students will join one of these 4 programs, some of our students join other programs, such as Pharmaceutical Sciences, Preventive Medicine (including Epidemiology and Biostatistics), Kinesiology and others. Flexibility and matching the program to each student’s research focus drives the choice of PhD program. As students join their new labs, they partner with their new mentor to  put together an Individual Development Program (IDP) with short and long term goals, to maximize their success.

Another exciting change is our new core curriculum, which ensures that all of our students have strong active knowledge in Applied Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, Applied Biostatistics and, given the importance of the human genome, Human Genetics and Genomics. Very importantly, we have added an interactive scientific writing class in the spring semester in which students will learn (among others) how to write a fellowship grant application. To solidify this skill, the qualifying exams of the new PhD programs have been adapted: the written component is an NIH fellowship application based on the student’s research topic. The proposal will be scored by a panel, and defended during the oral exam. Not only will this be an invaluable training experience, we anticipate that many students will submit these grants, and if funded it will add a very valuable dimension to students’ CVs.

I strongly encourage you to visit our faculty web pages, where you can learn about the fabulous research opportunities for our students. We have a very wide variety of topics focusing on the biomedical and biological sciences in the broadest sense of those words.

In PIBBS we foster outstanding science, collegiality and collaboration; in modern science, the most powerful research is done by interdisciplinary teams of scientists with diverse expertise, who join together to focus on a particular research question.

Fun facts:

  • PIBBS director since 2008
  • My research lab is in the Norris Cancer Center, and focuses on epigenetics and lung cancer
  • My lab recently picked and sold 1000 sunny California organges to support a fundraiser
  • I was born in the Netherlands, but have lived in 6 different countries, and speak three languages fluently