My Pathway to Success

The STARS experience is truly a life changing one, simply because of the many important experiences it has granted me both in and out of the lab. The program provided a conducive environment for scientific development due to guidance from a vast number of awesome graduate advocates and other professionals within the spectrum of the science world. The 8 weeks at UCSD has definitely equipped me for my future studies regardless of the scientific field I choose. Having done research in the field of Neurobiology under the wings of Dr. Gentry Patrick has definitely opened my understanding to what it truly means to be a researcher and with the implementation of this understanding in my life journey, I already feel closer to the fulfillment of my dreams of being the change I wish to see in the scientific world!!

Rajae Gayle,  2014 STARS student

Rajae Gayle,
2014 STARS student

My name is Rajae Gayle, a junior, biology major currently attending Howard University from the beautiful island of Jamaica. My research lies in the field of Neurobiology, where I study the trafficking of the Ubiquitin E3 Ligase, Nedd4-1 which aids in the regulation of protein degradation in neurons.


A Learning Experience

Graduate school can be nebulous concept for undergraduate students. Many undergraduate researchers have misconceptions and think that success in graduate school is dependent on the knowledge and/or talent they bring with them. However, my own experience in graduate school and in the STARS program as a graduate advocate has shown me that these ideas are false.

Graduate school will no doubt be difficult at some point or another. However, a student’s success in graduate school is determined predominately by their determination to succeed. No matter what students do in graduate school, there will be a learning curve. Though a student should have a good foundation in the basics that they learned in their undergraduate courses, it is okay to not understand or know the answers when a student begins. Graduate school is about learning through journal articles, successful and failed experiments, and other researchers. Be patient with yourself when navigating new terrain. You are not expected to be an expert until the end and even then, there is much more to learn! Personally, I have seen students excel at research in which they were never exposed, particularly because they had an interest in the subject and a desire to learn as much as they could from multiple sources. I myself have changed fields a few times in my educational and research career. You may not always be right as a scientist, but you must always seek the right answer.

I would challenge the STARS students to take advantage of the graduate advocates as their personal graduate school resource and explore new avenues of research. Any one of you can obtain a PhD if you are willing to put in the work and effort. You are all capable and remarkable in your own right. Be confident in yourself and your ability to succeed.

Timia Crisp, Graduate Advocate

Timia Crisp,
Graduate Advocate

Shared Experience: A Graduate Advocate Perspective

For the past 3 summers, I have been a graduate advocate in UCSD’s STARS summer program. I originally joined as a grad advocate because of my excellent summer experience as an STARS undergraduate researcher several years ago. It was the first time that I was able to meet undergraduates from different parts of the country who were all interested in graduate school. It was also the first time that I was able to do Bioengineering research, which is a field I ultimately decided to pursue in graduate school.

During each summer experience as a graduate advocate, I had the opportunity to meet a diverse group of science and engineering students from universities across the country. Although I’ve given all of my mentees assistance and advice in preparing applications for graduate programs and fellowships, the experience has also benefitted me personally in many important ways. My goal is to one day become a professor and the STARS graduate advocate experiences have given me a taste of what it will be like to mentor undergraduate students. I have also had the chance to provide useful information to students and help them achieve their professional goals. As a former STARS undergraduate researcher, I appreciate the fact that many people assisted me on my journey to graduate school. For the past three years, I’ve been able to “pay forward” what others have given me. Without question, being a grad advocate has been the most fulfilling activity that I’ve engaged in as a graduate student.

Joshua Francois,  Graduate Advocate

Joshua Francois,
Graduate Advocate

Letter from the Director

Dear Friends,

When I heard that the Office of Graduate Studies was looking for a new STARS Director, I jumped at the opportunity! It was a perfect fit as I am the product of and have extensive experience with undergraduate programs at the University of California, including STARS at UC San Diego.

I am first-generation Mexican-American. I grew up in Wilmington, CA, a working class community of Los Angeles. My father was a mechanic and my mother worked for Los Angeles County. I did not know any marine biologists or scientists. I did not even know someone who went to college. But after a fifth grade trip to Sea World San Diego, I decided I wanted to become a marine biologist.

After working at local aquariums and the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum in high school, I entered the Marine Biology program at UCLA. While at UCLA, I participated in the University of California Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees (UC LEADS) program. UC LEADS prepares underrepresented students to pursue advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. UC LEADS encouraged us to apply for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. In my junior year, I decided I would ‘practice’ applying. To my surprise, I got it! It was my golden ticket to graduate school.

After receiving my Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from UCLA, I enrolled in the Marine Biology graduate program at the school of my dreams: Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) at UC San Diego. My dissertation research focused on the effects of turbulence on feeding and swimming in sea urchin larvae. Because of my previous experiences, I had a strong interest in involving other underrepresented students in my research. I became involved with the STARS program for the first time in summer 2006, when I volunteered to mentor Marlene Brito. Marlene is a Mexican-American woman from Chicago. It was her first marine biology research experience and my first experience mentoring. Although we didn’t accomplish much that summer, we developed a strong friendship. We kept in touch throughout the years as she participated in additional research programs and applied to fellowships and graduate programs. Currently, Marlene is following in my footsteps as an NSF Graduate Research Fellow in Marine Biology at SIO. In summer 2007 and 2008, I was also a Graduate Advocate for the STARS program. I mentored 5 students (10 total) each summer, many of which I am still in contact with today. In December 2009, I received my Ph.D. in Marine Biology from SIO.

After four and a half years pursuing a National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Aizenberg Biomineralization and Biomimetics Laboratory at Harvard University, I decided to move back to Southern California to be closer to family and friends (and to escape the cold winters). Plus, I missed working with a diverse group of undergraduate students. Chris Murphy, whom I worked with as a graduate student at UCSD, told me about this opportunity when he found out about my plans.

I am so excited to be back at UCSD working with STARS! My goal for this summer is to continue the longstanding success of STARS. I also hope to develop and institutionalize new programming elements. But I am most looking forward to developing strong relationships with the students that will persist throughout their undergraduate years and see them into graduate programs and beyond.

Dr. Elisa Maldonado, STARS Director

Dr. Elisa Maldonado, STARS Director



                 Elisa Maldonado, Ph.D.


Welcome to STARS summer 2014!

The STARS summer research program got off to a great start this Monday, June 23, welcoming students from universities all over the United States.  The program is also happy to welcome its new interim summer director, Dr. Elisa Maldonado, a former UCSD graduate student and also a former STARS graduate advocate.

The STARS program is an intensive 8-week academy modeled on graduate school life.  It includes 6-8 hours of lab research per day, a weekly student development workshop, a GRE courses two mornings per week and optional social activities.  In addition to a faculty mentor and a lab supervisor, each participant will be assigned a graduate advocate/mentor.  To complete the program, students must participate and make a 15-minute Power Point research presentation at the annual Summer Research Symposium.

Once again, we would like to express the warmest welcome to all participants of this years program, students and faculty alike.


    The 2014 STARS Summer Staff