Discoveries Magazine


Graduate School Is Growing by Degrees

Yesol Sapozhnikov, RN, is the first master’s student in Cedars-Sinai’s Graduate Program in Biomedical Science and Translational Medicine. Photo: Al Cuizon

Cedars-Sinai’s dynamic graduate school, which trains young scientists to pursue discoveries in the laboratory that shed light on diseases and inspire new therapies, has added a master’s degree program.

Seven years after opening its doors to PhD candidates, the Cedars-Sinai Graduate Program in Biomedical Science and Translational Medicine welcomed its first master’s student: Yesol Sapozhnikov, RN, who began the program in fall 2015. Among other features, the two-year curriculum makes it possible for participants to hold down jobs while pursuing their studies.

“It’s perfect for me,” says Sapozhnikov, an educator in the Medical Surgical Rehabilitation Division of Nursing at Cedars-Sinai. “I can continue working, and it’s a way for me to assess how much I like the research world before I jump into a full-time PhD program.”

“Having a vibrant, broad-based graduate program is extremely important for efforts to increase the breadth and depth of science at Cedars-Sinai,” says Marilyn Ader, PhD, an associate professor of Biomedical Sciences who directs the master’s program. “To be able to train the next generation of graduate students makes Cedars-Sinai a premier institution in both patient care and basic research.”

In their first year, master’s and doctoral students take the same courses. They learn the fundamentals of biomedical research and how to translate that work into tangible therapeutics for healthcare settings. For hands-on experience, they rotate among three Cedars-Sinai laboratories.

During the second year, working with mentors, both groups of students choose research projects to satisfy degree requirements. But while PhD candidates have several years to complete these endeavors, master’s students have just one, so their projects are more modest in scope while remaining rigorous.

“With the two-year degree option, the graduate school can embrace talented applicants who don’t fit into the traditional PhD track,” Ader says. “These may include budding scientists, such as Sapozhnikov, who are not ready to commit to four or five years of training, as well as future physicians looking to burnish their research credentials for medical school.”

Hired by Cedars-Sinai in 2012, Sapozhnikov initially worked in an oncology inpatient unit, specializing in bone marrow transplant nursing. “It was a very special experience — heartbreaking, challenging, and inspiring,” she says. “Patients go through extreme situations.”

The experience spurred Sapozhnikov to expand her knowledge of transplant medicine and then become an educator in the medical surgical rehabilitation division of the Department of Nursing. “As one nurse at bedside, I can only influence those around me,” she explains. “As a nurse educator, I can bring more change to more nurses.”

Enrolling in Cedars-Sinai’s master’s program was the logical next step. “Learning the science is extremely satisfying,” she says. “And the translational aspect of the curriculum makes it relevant to my job because we learn about diseases that nurses help manage in the hospital every day.”

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