The controversial plan is carried out by Dr. students in biotechnology training science

As a science of life, Dr. holders in the United States are increasingly finding postgraduate work in nonprofit companies, and more and more institutions are offering internship programs and career guidance services that aim to give students a taste of the industry. Now a university is taking a step forward, allowing students to spend most of their doctorates. training in a biotech startup.

The plan was met with mixed reviews. Some see it as an exciting opportunity for students against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving doctorate. employment landscape. Others worry that students will not gain real experience in graduation and may suffer restrictions on their academic freedom.

The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), announced the plan for an event at City Hall last month, telling the campus community that the university has signed an agreement with Altos Labs, a Silicon Valley startup focused on cell health, sustainability and rejuvenation, which has raised billions of funding from wealthy investors. The agreement paves the way for UCSF alumni to work under the supervision of Altos-based scientists, including UCSF professors, who moved to the company in March and retain unpaid faculty status.

So far, two students have joined, and both have already worked in the laboratories of scientists moving to Altos. “This is a rare opportunity to explore the balance between curiosity and mission-oriented science within a collaborative group and with excellent resources,” said Zach Kogan, a second-year doctor. student now based in Altos. “This is the environment in which I want to do my training.”

The plan builds on other career development and support programs available at UCSF, including a program to help alumni find internships off campus, said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hagood, the administrator who discussed Altos before signing the agreement. “For me, it was a natural sequel,” he says. It also allows professors moving to Altos to continue to monitor alumni, which some have expressed a desire to do, according to Altos Labs founder and chief scientist Rick Klausner. “We want Altos to be part of the academic ecosystem,” he added.

Under the agreement, students will complete coursework at UCSF and can perform rotations in a laboratory for the first year at UCSF and Altos. Those who choose to work under Altos researchers will be almost entirely based in the company until the end of their doctoral degree, although they will retain access to student functions and on-campus support. In return, Altos will pay UCSF to cover each student’s tuition, fees and scholarship. The company has also pledged $ 25 million for the university’s five-year degree programs to be used at the discretion of the dean of the diplomacy department, Haugud said.

The agreement – which was signed on March 1 but few have seen it at UCSF – also states that Altos-based graduates will be “UCSF employees, not Altos Labs” and will not be eligible to receive any significant financial incentives or significant additional benefits ”, unless UCSF-based graduates receive something similar.

The program will be monitored by a steering committee and changes will be made as needed, Haugud added. “It is complete freedom of choice for graduates to decide to do their dissertation at Altos. There is no quota or … obligation on our part. So we are excited to be able to make this an option for students in the coming years. ”

Stephen Flower, assistant professor of cell and tissue biology at UCSF, has not decided whether he is in favor of the agreement. “It’s likely to be a really interesting experiment,” as long as students’ needs come first, he said. But Floor worries that students based in Altos, 30 kilometers southeast of the UCSF campus, will miss out on interactions with their peers. “The community is truly an integral part of higher education. … There is a lot of institutional knowledge that is stored by the student population that is really important for students to have access. ”

He notes that partnerships between universities and for-profit companies are not uncommon, citing a recent agreement between Johns Hopkins University and Amazon that will fund scholarships for students to do research in artificial intelligence. “What is unusual is that their main job is to be based in a company with a profit. And I think that’s really the center of the conversation. ” Another UCSF professor, speaking on condition of anonymity, noted that the agreement “touches the nerves” of some in the campus community because Altos is seen as a “new, secretive, strangely funded” company.

Many in the UCSF community have also expressed concern that business interests will hamper the ability of Altos-based graduates to communicate their findings to the scientific community and complete their degree within the typical timeframe. “The people who support the company are professional investors and this puts financial pressure on the results,” said one.

Klausner does not see this as a problem because of the company’s business model, which aims to be a hybrid between academia and industry. All scholars working at Altos, for example, have academic freedom policies enshrined in their contract. “They are free to publish; they are free to cooperate, “Klausner said. Prior to publication, the company will review a document to see if there is any intellectual property that needs to be protected. But “this is no different from universities,” he said. “This is the only limitation – not only for the graduates, but for all the scientists at Altos.”

The 20-page agreement, signed by Altos and UCSF representatives, includes passages aimed at protecting the academic freedom of UCSF students based at the company. “Both Altos Labs and UCSF want to avoid any potential trade pressure that, in a non-profit organization like Altos Labs, may have the potential to limit the usual free exchange that is so important to the success of graduates and other interns.” says in it.

But given that few have had the opportunity to actually read this agreement, let alone contribute to the partnership, the lack of transparency has left many in the campus community disappointed. “I think there is definitely an application that can be really useful for students,” said Zara Weinberg, a postdoc in cell biology who works with Hannah El-Samad, one of the UCSF professors who moved to Altos in March. . “But I don’t think such a manifestation will happen without the contribution of the whole community,” she added. “It’s hard to believe that any decision UCSF makes is in the best interests of the learners when they don’t involve interns in this decision-making process.” (Weinberg had the opportunity to move to Altos, but decided to stay at UCSF, a decision that El-Samad fully supported and complied with, she said.)

According to a university statement, UCSF faculty and students are not usually involved in negotiating industrial partnership agreements. … However, the Chancellor consulted with postgraduate leaders and faculty leaders on the agreement before it was signed.

Anna Lipkin, Doctor of Neurology since the age of six. A UCSF student who was on the program’s executive committee last year when discussions began with Altos advised first- and second-year students not to move into the company, telling them, “It’s going to fail. This is going to be awful. You will be abused, and it is such a small company – it is so far from our campus. Isolation itself is just such a risk. ” She wants the university to start its partnership with the company in a better way, such as summer internships for a doctor of philosophy. students. Adds Mark Gerges, Ph.D. a student who serves on the same executive committee as Lipkin, “There are many ways in which graduate students can gain experience in the industry, and that just seemed like the most extreme version.”

“Perhaps many of these fears that people have would have been minimized if we really knew what was going on,” Floer said. Ultimately, he continues, the UCSF’s experiment “raises questions about credentials and what it means to do a doctorate.” This raises questions about what kind of training you are trying to look for. Can you get this training in the private sector? Maybe you can. ”

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