Biomed students mark milestone with first-ever lab coat ceremony

In the first ceremony of its kind for the Biomedical and Biological Sciences (BBS) Ph.D. Program, 16 graduate students received lab coats during their annual symposium Aug. 16 at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“This event marked a new chapter for our biomedical graduate students as they move into more focused lab work. I look forward to seeing their research successes and wish them well as they enter this important new stage of training,” said Dr. Robert Weiss, associate dean for research and graduate education.

A group shot of coated biomedical students
For biomedical and biological sciences students, the lab coat comes at the end of the first year of study, after concluding three lab rotations and the bulk of their classwork. Photo provided.

Coating ceremonies have long been part of a veterinary and medical student’s path to graduation, marking their transition from classroom learning to in-hospital training. Students in the BBS Ph.D. Program embark on basic, clinical and translational life sciences research while earning a Ph.D. For them, the lab coat comes at the end of the first year of study, after concluding three lab rotations and the bulk of their classwork. They will then join a lab and begin a thesis project.

Kayleigh Morrison and Gunther Hollopeter
Ph.D. student Kayleigh Morrison in her customized lab coat with Dr. Gunther Hollopeter. Photo provided.

“The lab coat ceremony signified us transitioning into the role of a scientist, learning to be independent and having ownership of our projects,” said Anna Schumann, a second-year Ph.D. student in the program.

After seeing other graduate programs do something similar, Schumann pitched the idea for a lab coat ceremony to Dr. David Lin, director of graduate studies and associate professor of neurobiology. “I thought it was a great idea,” Lin said. “The pandemic took away so many opportunities for students to interact and learn from one another. We wanted a new event to help differentiate things this year. My hope is that students and faculty will take it as a lighthearted opportunity to publicly welcome students to their lab.”

Students also had the opportunity to personalize their lab coats. “It was great to take a moment and celebrate how far we’ve come during our first year with my peers and the rest of the BBS community,” Schumann said.

In addition to the regular stressors of graduate school, the pandemic has affected the progress and well-being of the BBS community, added Lin. “The lab coat ceremony was a way to recognize that, while things are slowly trying to return to normal, we can keep looking for fun, small ways to help promote student well-being and honor their achievements.”

A student asks a question during a BBS symposium presentation
In addition to the lab coat ceremony, there were thesis pitch sessions, a keynote presentation, a diversity and inclusion talk, a working lunch, poster session and more. Photo: Carol Jennings/CVM

Successful symposium

Students received their coats during the 21st annual BBS Symposium, an all-day event that kicks off the academic year for the program. The lab coat ceremony opened the symposium, after which students competed in a three-minute thesis pitch session.

DEI presentation at the BBS symposium
Dr. Julio Torres, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California at Irvine, gave a talk on diversity and inclusion via Zoom. Photo: Carol Jennings/CVM

Dr. Julio Torres, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California at Irvine, gave a talk on diversity and inclusion, entitled, “Talking Ghetto? Unpacking Language Bias Through Language Ideologies.” Torres’ talk explored different forms of language bias, spanning supposedly ‘incorrect’ ways of using English to myths around the ‘languaging’ of multilingual speakers to make meaning and shape knowledge.

There are 101 students in the BBS Program, 26% of whom come from underrepresented minority groups. “The two unofficial hallmarks of the BBS Program are diversity and community,” Lin said. “BBS was built on the idea that a diversity of research subjects, personal backgrounds and experiences are essential components for promoting scientific development. But this diversity needs to be accompanied by a sense of community, which is critical for building a safe learning environment for everyone.”

After a working lunch, keynote speaker Dr. Vincent Racaniello, the Higgins Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Columbia University, gave the symposium’s Douglas D. McGregor Research Lecture, “Scientist Communicating Science,” as well as the Journey Through Science talk, entitled, “An Inordinate Fondness for Viruses.” Students then displayed research posters in the CVM Center Atrium and answered questions from faculty and other attendees.

A student presents her work during the BBS poster session
The poster session at the 21st annual BBS Symposium. Photo: Carol Jennings/CVM

“It’s always great to see what other people in the program are working on, both during the three-minute thesis competition and the poster presentation,” Schumann said.

“The topics presented covered the gamut of research done by our graduate students,” Lin said. “Hearing what others are doing for their thesis work helps all of our community grow and learn together.”

Several awards were presented to students during the event:

  • The “People’s Choice” winner of the three-minute thesis competition: Viviana Maymi, combined D.V.M.-Ph.D. student in Dr. Brian Rudd’s lab
  • Thesis competition runners-up: James Cockey, combined D.V.M.-Ph.D. student in Dr. Cynthia Leifer’s lab, and Robert Lopez-Astacio, Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Colin Parrish’s lab
  • Best research posters: Melia Matthews, Ph.D. student in Dr. Karl Lewis’ lab, and James Mullmann, combined D.V.M.-Ph.D. student in the labs of Drs. Richard Cerione and Robert Weiss
A student presents her work during the BBS poster session
The poster session is a chance for students to present their work and answer questions from faculty and attendees. Photo: Carol Jennings/CVM

“Grad school can be a stressful and difficult time,” Schumann said. “I’m glad and thankful to be part of the BBS community, where we as students are supported by our director, other faculty members, by [program administrators] Alyssa Lopez and Arla Hourigan, as well as our peers.”

Lin was pleased that the event helped welcome new students into the community, gave current students a chance to reconnect — and highlighted not just research, but the people who conduct it and the connections between them.

“I couldn’t be prouder of all of our students,” he said.

The student organizers with keynote speaker
Keynote speaker Dr. Vincent Racaniello (left), the Higgins Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Columbia University, with the symposium's student organizers. Photo provided.

Written by Melanie Greaver Cordova