Few scientists will ever forget the first time they presented their research at a conference. Thanks to the Neil Segil Stem Cell Travel Scholarships, three USC Stem Cell undergraduate researchers recently experienced this career first.
The travel scholarships commemorate the late Professor Neil Segil and his passion for science and education, and provide $1,000 stipends for USC Stem Cell undergraduate researchers attending scientific meetings related to the field of regenerative medicine.
Taylor Simonian, a senior human biology major with a minor in health care studies from Andy McMahon’s lab, attended the 2023 Society for Developmental Biology (SDB) meeting in Chicago. She presented a poster about sex-specific differences in fat tissue.
“Having the opportunity to participate in research and share these findings at an international meeting for my very first time reinforced my curiosities in science and desire to continue research in my future profession,” she said. “I’m really thankful I got the travel scholarship.”
She also appreciated gaining experience as a solo traveler, flying to Chicago and staying at the conference hotel.
After graduation, she plans to spend a gap year doing research before applying to MD/PhD programs.
“I enjoyed all aspects of the meeting, from attending the talks and poster sessions to meeting scientists,” she said. “I have never had the opportunity to engage with so many scientists involved in various fields of research, all in one place, at the same time. It was interesting to hear about fields of research completely novel to me, while continuing to expand my knowledge in more familiar areas.”
Lauren Teubner, a senior human biology major with a minor in health innovation from Gage Crump’s lab, also attended the 2023 SDB meeting in Chicago, which is her hometown. She presented a poster about her research, which focuses on craniofacial cartilage diversity across zebrafish and humans.
“I never had even considered or thought of going to a conference before this,” she said. “And so I’m really grateful to have had that experience, and definitely wouldn’t have pursued that otherwise.”
A competitive figure skater since the age of 5, Teubner has sustained many athletic injuries that fostered her interest in musculoskeletal regenerative medicine. She’s currently in the process of applying to MD/PhD programs with developmental biology, stem cell biology, or regenerative medicine tracks.
“Attending the SDB meeting was a wonderful learning experience at an opportune time during my undergraduate studies,” she said. “Listening to the various speakers from many different corners of this field opened my eyes to the great variety of research going on, as well as what I may want to become involved in during my graduate studies.”
As an added bonus, since Teubner and Simonian both attended the SDB conference, they were able to meet up in Chicago.
“I don’t know how, but we never met each other before this experience, even though we literally work in the same building,” said Teubner. “So we spent some time together at the conference, which was also really fun.”
Catcher Salazar, a sophomore biology major in Leonardo Morsut’s lab, attended the 2023 Mammalian Synthetic Biology Workshop in San Jose. He served as co-first author for a scientific poster about programming mouse cells to form elongated structures—a project that could inform future efforts to regrow missing fingers or limbs.
“Presenting a poster gave me a sense of legitimacy as a researcher,” said Salazar. “It also gave me a sense that the work I have been doing is in fact contributing towards a larger mission—something that has always made research so meaningful to me. I was able to gain a sense of the highlights of a career in academia.”
More than a dozen members of the Morsut lab attended, and Salazar enjoyed caravanning to the Bay Area in a rented van and staying with his fellow scientists in an Airbnb, while attending his first conference.
After graduation, Salazar plans to pursue his PhD and become a professor.
“I enjoyed listening to inspiring seminars, meeting interesting people, and traveling to San Jose and exploring San Francisco with my lab mates,” he said. “Traveling to and attending the Mammalian Synthetic Biology Workshop was an experience that I’ll never forget.”