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Guest Post: Attending the 2015 U.S. Amgen Scholar Symposium

Guest post written by Caltech Amgen Scholar Isabelle Rosenthal

Isabelle Rosenthal - photo by Matt Petit

As we clambered out of the bus, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Amgen Symposium which was taking place over the next few days. I had already spent the previous four weeks as an Amgen Scholar at Caltech getting to know my compatriots there, but this was new territory on another campus and with every Amgen Scholar in the country.

Saturday began with a keynote address from Dr. Charles Craik. He devoted most of his talk the importance of obtaining a PhD, but what resonated with me the most were his caveats: he warned us that one should only pursue a career in science if one is prepared to fail, and fail repeatedly, before achieving anything meaningful; and it is that type of resilience that is really important. Since failure is a feeling I have become well-acquainted with this summer as I try to wrangle my code into doing even approximately what I want it to do, this was rather encouraging. There was also a seminar on applying to graduate school that was refreshingly blunt. All too often, speakers tend to give vague, wishy-washy answers about what graduate schools are looking for, and this was a no frills, straight-forward talk on what a personal statement should be and how to receive good letters of recommendation.

Photo by Isabelle Rosenthal
Molecular Modeling Room at Amgen – photo by Matt Petit
Photo by Isabelle Rosenthal

But the most interesting part of the Amgen Symposium, for me at least, happened on Sunday when we spent a day at the Amgen facilities in Thousand Oaks. As a cognitive computational neuroscience major, the kind of molecular biology that Amgen does isn’t really up my alley. This was a whole new world for me. It was fascinating to tour the labs there – the Molecular Modeling Room especially, with its software used to represent different compounds in 3D, made me wish I had several hours to spend there.

Of course, what really made the Symposium as a whole was the chance to interact with the other Amgen Scholars. It’s rare to be get to spend time with that many people my age who are all involved with incredibly interesting research projects and have the same questions about the future as I do. Although the Symposium may be often referred to as a networking opportunity (which can often be intimidating), it was really more of an opportunity to bond over commonalities in research and learn new techniques you didn’t even know existed. It was a pleasure to do.

I’m now back in the lab at Caltech and glad to be back at work. (Today we ran our first subject in the MRI!) The Symposium gave me a better understanding of how to succeed as a scientist, as well as a rare look into what life in the industry side of biology is actually like. Not only am I excited about my future as a scientist, but I’m also starting to feel as though I might know how to get there!

To learn more about the Amgen Scholars Program, please visit and check out the #AmgenScholars hashtag on Twitter. Follow @AmgenFoundation to stay up to date with all STEM-related news from the Amgen Foundation.

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