On December 6, 2019, the SDSU Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) and Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) programs hosted their 12th Annual Current Ph.D. Panel where  SDSU alumni who are currently enrolled in Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. programs throughout the nation are invited to return to the SDSU campus to empower students and answer pressing questions about how to survive and thrive in doctoral programs. IMSD and MARC are part of an SDSU umbrella program, the Center for the Advancement of Students in Academia or CASA. Under the CASA umbrella there are 16 distinct support programs which span the different departments in the College of Sciences as well as the College of Engineering. These programs collaborate to provide students with opportunities to tailor their education, and are as diverse as the students they serve. There are programs that provide support to  students in all educational levels including transfer and graduate students. IMSD and MARC, along with many other CASA programs share a centralized mission to serve and prioritize students of marginalized and vulnerable communities. These NIH-supported research programs prepare under-served students studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), in addition to behavioral health disciplines for direct entry into Ph.D. programs.

9 doctoral students

This year, 9 doctoral students were able to volunteer their time to return SDSU to mentor close to 100 students from the SDSU College of Sciences and College of Engineering departments. These students exemplify a successful graduate tenure, in addition to a successful career in various specialties. As social justice oriented programs, IMSD and MARC students continue the tradition of giving back to their communities after reaching success, to better pave the path of equity and opportunity.

Panelists hailed from diverse disciplines including astronomy, biology, chemistry/biochemistry, computational science/engineering, and psychology. The initial session of the panel included general and non-specific questions, ranging from topics of work/life balance, to funding opportunities, and how to learn from failure. In addition, panelists touched on the imposter syndrome and encouraged students to apply to their dream graduate programs even if they did not feel confident about it. The encouragement from all the panelists truly made an impact on the students as they said they felt more confident in applying to additional graduate schools. Following the general round-table, panelist dispersed into separate discipline specific groups, where students were allowed to engage with panelist on a more intimate level. At this phase, students were given the space to ask specific questions. Topics ranged from how to prepare for graduate school interviews, to how to deal with home-sickness and issues pertaining to mental health. 
The IMSD and MARC programs, in conjunction with the CASA office, will continue offering seminars and networking opportunities for SDSU undergraduate students throughout the academic year. If you are interested in obtaining more information regarding IMSD and/or MARC programs and opportunities available in the coming semester, please contact us. If you are passionate about research and dedicated to earning a Ph.D., contact MARC (https://marc.sdsu.edu/) and IMSD (http://sci.sdsu.edu/imsd/) for information about their programs.

NameSDSU CASA ProgramGraduate Institution & Doctoral Program
Tara Fetherolf IMSDUniversity of California, Riverside – Physics with Emphasis in Astrophysics
Kristen FrosioIMSDOklahoma State University – Clinical Psychology
Eric GonzalezMARCUniversity of California, San Francisco – Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Juan PeñaIMSDThe University of New Mexico – Clinical Psychology 
Sashary RamosIMSDIndiana University – Chemistry Graduate Program
Harmony SaundersLSAMP, McNairUniversity of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) – MD/Ph.D. in Cancer Biology 
Savannah SawagedCASA, HPAOCedars-Sinai Medical Center – Biomedical Sciences 
Phillip SilvaMARCUniversity of Washington – Graduate Program in Neuroscience
Esteban Vazquez-HidalgoMARCSDSU/Claremont Graduate University – Joint Doctoral Program in Computational Science/Bio-Mechanical Engineering

9 doctoral students sitting on the panel