Our Program Alumni

Our Master’s Program was established in 1992 with the mission of providing intensive hands-on training in research by requiring students to conduct focused research in a laboratory over a two-year period and to defend a written thesis. This training was to be complemented by rigorous coursework, thus allowing students to graduate with a strong theoretical and experimental research foundation in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Students with undergraduate degrees from many different countries including the United States, China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Finland and Switzerland have enrolled in the program. More than 90% of students graduate with an MS degree in 2 years. Over 200 students have graduated from the program and are now pursuing diverse careers, including positions as staff in research and development, technical support or sales divisions within the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industries, faculty members in a university or research institute, research associates in academic research laboratories, physicians, pharmacists, patent attorneys, and technical writers. Many program graduates have also used their education and opportunity to co-author original research in publications as a stepping stone towards successful admission to PhD degree programs in the life sciences at USC or other highly ranked universities including Caltech, Cornell University, University of Oxford, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Los Angeles, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Utah, and University of Minnesota, to name a few.


Takako Makita (PhD 2005)

Takako Makita obtained her BS in Chemistry from Tokyo Metropolitan University (1995) and worked as a researcher at the Sagami Research Institute for a year after graduation. Her desire to switch her career path from chemistry to biomedical research was the primary motivation for applying to the Master’s Program in 1997. She conducted her Master’s and PhD thesis research in the laboratory of Dr. Henry Sucov. Her postdoctoral research in Neuroscience at John’s Hopkins University in Dr. David Ginty’s laboratory from 2005 – 2009 resulted in a publication in Nature following which she was recruited as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. She is currently pursuing research in developmental neuroscience. Takako credits her success in biomedical research to the unique opportunities granted by the MS program to switch fields from chemistry to molecular biology and to obtain the requisite training to excel in the new field.


Manali Dighe (MS 2000)

Manali obtained her BS in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles (1997). She did prostate cancer research at UCLA for a year and joined the MS program in 1998. She completed her thesis research in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Maxson and had an initial goal of applying to medical school after graduation. A change of heart about medicine due to the lengthy time commitment led her to explore the possibility of becoming a patent attorney. She juggled attending Loyola Law School in LA in the evenings and working as a Life Sciences Representative for Sigma Aldrich Company during the day. After passing the California Bar exam, Manali worked as an Intellectual Property (IP) attorney at several law firms before moving to an in-house IP attorney position at a pharmaceutical company in the Bay area. Manali attributes the many opportunities that she has had largely to the research-intensive Master’s degree from USC. Her ability to gain employment at Sigma Aldrich which enabled her to support herself while studying law was a direct product of her hands-on research experience in a reputable laboratory. At her current position, her ability to discuss science with the in-house scientists is highly valued and she attributes it again to her educational background and research training.


Lijun Yao (MS 2017)

Lijun obtained her BS in Horticulture from Hebei Agricultural University in Baoding, China (2015). Lijun’s incentive to enroll in the MS program was to allow her to change fields from horticulture to biomedical sciences. Her long term goal is to be a Professor at a top University in China. She conducted her thesis research in the lab of Dr. Peggy Farnham and got an introduction to bioinformatics, an area that she is keen on further pursuing during her PhD education. “The course curriculum at USC allowed me to develop a strong foundation in biochemistry, human genetics, molecular biology and biostatistics. My favorite course was the Toolbox course where we learnt principles of traditional and state-of-the-art methods used in biochemistry and molecular biology,” said Lijun. She was accepted to the PhD programs at USC, UCSC, Stony Brook University, University of Wisconsin, University of Vermont and Washington University in St. Louis. Lijun will enroll in the Human Statistical Genetics graduate program at Washington University in 2017.



Sean Chung (MS 2016)

Sean graduated with a BA in Neuroscience from Pomona College (2012). His undergraduate thesis project at Pomona allowed him to explore the mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and transmission. Although Sean was accepted to a PhD program, he chose to pursue a Master’s degree at USC because of its reputation and to identify areas of interest. His thesis research was done in the lab of structural biochemist, Dr. Ralf Langen. “I truly appreciate the depth of exposure and training I received from Prof. Langen and his lab because they will challenge me to examine protein structure differently, always keeping in mind its functional potential,” said Sean. Upon graduation, he secured admission to PhD programs at UCLA and Cornell, and decided to enroll in the Biochemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology Program at Cornell. In addition to his drive for science, Sean is a talented musician and played the viola as a Fellow with the American Youth Symphony. He is among the select group of 100 musicians chosen because they represent extraordinary talent from all over the world.




Sean Brugger (PhD 2002)

Sean graduated with a BS in Genetics from University of California, Davis (1994). He worked as a bench scientist initially in an academic laboratory for a year and then at Roche Biosciences for two years. Recognizing that advancement in industry would require a higher degree, he applied to the Master’s program at USC in 1997 and conducted his Master’s and PhD thesis research under the tutelage of Dr. Robert Maxson. Sean then completed a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA before joining Baxter Biosciences where he was Senior Manager of Global Clinical and Medical Affairs. Four years later, he was recruited to Amgen where he ultimately worked as a Director of Global Scientific Communications focusing on inflammation. He is currently the Senior Medical Science Liaison at Alexion Pharmaceuticals in Los Angeles. “The research-focused Master’s program has a real advantage of giving one several options without requiring a longer term commitment. If one’s primary interest is to be a full-time bench-scientist, that would be an ideal route to pursue, but it can also open doors to other arenas in industry,” said Sean, speaking from the body of experience he has acquired in industry over a period of a decade.


Niyati Mehta (MS 2007)

Niyati graduated with a B.Sc. degree (Major: Biochemistry and Life Sciences; Minor: Biotechnology) from the University of Mumbai (2005). She chose to enroll in the MS program because of its promise to provide research training as well as foundational course work and did her thesis research in the laboratory of Dr. Pragna Patel. “It was not only the opportunity to interact with bright faculty and postdocs but also the exposure to individuals from diverse cultures that allowed me to grow as a scientist and as person. As a result, I was very self-assured when I returned to India with an MS in 2007 and successfully interviewed for a research position at Piramal Life Sciences,” said Niyati. She returned to Los Angeles in 2009 and worked in a genomics lab at USC before enrolling in the PhD program at UCLA in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology. After graduation, Niyati worked at Natera, a genetic testing company in the Bay Area and more recently, has worked at Genentech in the biomarker discovery unit. Her long term goal is to obtain a leadership position in the biotech or pharmaceutical industry and has been acquiring diverse research experiences towards this goal which she hopes to combine with an MBA in the future.


Jeffrey Tsou (MS 1999, PhD 2004)

Jeffrey Tsou got his undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in 1996. He worked as a research lab technician at UCSD for a year and half and was initially unsure if he wanted to go to medical school, get a Master’s in Public Health or pursue a career in research. He decided to enroll in the Master’s Program and joined the lab of Dr. Ite Laird-Offringa. He set a long term goal of working in the pharmaceutical industry and continued research in the same lab towards his doctoral thesis. After graduation and a brief postdoc, Jeffrey acquired experience with contract pharmaceutical manufacturing and clinical trial management at Best Formulations and USC, respectively, which led to employment with Merck holding several positions from Molecular Profiling Program Manager, Operations Lead for Translational Models, to Global Operations and Outsourcing Lead for the Molecular Biomarkers and Diagnostics Department. After 7 years at Merck, he moved to Illumina, a biotech company that specializes in genomics through technology and biology, where he is a Program Manager overseeing product development programs in the reproductive and genetic health arena. “The Master’s program was an ideal choice for me as it allowed me to keep my options open while still acquiring research experience and a post-graduate degree without initially requiring a long term commitment. It also allowed me to formulate my long term career goal,” said Jeffrey.


Samantha Yeligar (MS 2006, PhD 2009)

Samantha graduated with a BS (2004) in Biochemistry (Biology emphasis) at the University of California, Riverside. She obtained her MS in 2006 (mentor: Dr. Joseph Hacia) and her PhD in 2009 (mentor: Dr. Vijay Kalra) from the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology department. She moved to Emory University’s Alcohol and Lung Biology Center as a postdoctoral fellow where she obtained a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA). She joined the faculty as an Associate in 2013 and soon obtained a K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award from the NIAAA to continue her studies on the role of microRNAs in modulating alcohol-induced alveolar macrophage oxidative stress and dysfunction. In 2015, Samantha was promoted to Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine where she is examining novel therapeutic strategies for improving lung immunity. “The Master’s program at USC helped me to develop the confidence to ask scientific questions in an organized way that would stand up to scientific rigor, and it kindled what has become an insatiable thirst for trying to answer fundamental biological questions that currently have no answers. The mentorship and support offered by the Master’s program in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology motivated me to continue my pursuits as an academic scientist,” said Samantha.


Lijing Yao (PhD 2015)

Lijing obtained her BS in Biotechnology from Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangdong, China (2011). After she enrolled in the MS program, her interest in genomics drew her to the lab of Dr. Peggy Farnham under whose mentorship she ultimately obtained her PhD. “I really valued the mentorship of Dr. Tokes, Dr. Farnham and Dr. Berman during my time at USC. I also took advantage of the many seminars from speakers at various top Universities that allowed me to learn about cutting-edge research in molecular biology,” said Lijing. With programming skills in R and Perl, and statistics, acquired at USC as well as nine co-authored publications, Lijing found employment as a bioinformatician initially at Roche and later at Bina Technologies, part of Roche sequencing solutions, in the Bay area.

Adithya “Adi” Balasubramaniam (MS 2008)

Adi graduated with a BS in Industrial Biotechnology from Anna University in Chennai, India (2006). Adi’s long term goal was to work in the pharmaceutical industry and several strengths of the MS program appealed to him: the affiliation with a medical school, the requirement for a compulsory research thesis, research focus of the faculty, and location in California with its high concentration of biotech companies. “In light of my goal, I selected the lab of Dr. Tobias Ulmer for my thesis project where I got rigorous training in protein purification and characterization as well as exposure to protein structure analysis techniques such as NMR, EPR, and CD. This enabled me to land an internship at Diadexus while I was in the MS program which in turn was instrumental in obtaining a job offer from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in their protein chemistry division even before I graduated in 2008,” said Adi. He moved to Genentech in 2012 where he worked in late stage pharmaceutical development. Adi was recruited to Lonza in Basel, Switzerland in 2016 where he is currently Lead Scientist in the drug products division directing projects for formulation development globally. Adi was recipient of a Genentech Recognition Award for significant contribution to projects each year during his tenure at Genentech. He credits his successes in industry to the training and opportunities he received at USC.

Silvia Cervantes Cortes (MS 2015)

Silvia obtained her BS in Biochemistry from California State University in Long Beach in 2012. She was drawn to the Master’s program at USC because of its reputation. It also allowed her to determine if pursuing a PhD would be the right choice for her. She opted to do her thesis research in the lab of Dr. Ansgar Siemer. “Taking classes and working in the lab alongside PhD students and interacting with students from diverse backgrounds were great confidence-building experiences. In addition, Dr. Siemer was a great mentor who not only gave me an opportunity to actually use methods like PCR, cloning and electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) that I had only known theoretically, but also encouraged me to pursue a PhD and taught me how to publish my results,” she said. With a long term goal of directing creative bench research in an academic or industrial setting, Silvia is currently pursuing a PhD in the Siemer lab.

Yuhan Sun (MS 2016)

Yuhan graduated with a BS in Biological Science from China Agricultural University in Beijing, China (2014). Her long term goal was to obtain a PhD in the US and secure a position as a Professor in China. Her favorite feature of the program was the ability to conduct research over the entire two-year period which allows one to actually address a research question while acquiring expertise in various experimental methods. She completed her thesis research in the lab of developmental biologist, Dr. Ruchi Bajpai where she worked on a zebra fish model that allowed her to learn embryology, microinjection, gene editing with CRISPR-Cas9 and confocal microscopy, and co-authored a publication. “My mentor, Dr. Bajpai’s passion for research creates an exciting environment in the lab and inspired me to produce meaningful results,” said Yuhan. She was admitted to the Craniofacial Molecular Biology PhD program at USC in 2016 and is continuing her thesis research in the Bajpai lab.


Farah Alammari (MS 2013)

Farah, a graduate of King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, majored in Clinical Laboratory Sciences (2009) and worked as a medical technologist for a year. Her desire to change career directions from the clinical arena to research in basic sciences drove her to enroll in the MS program in 2011. The primary reason that she selected the program was because of the curriculum’s requirement for extensive course work as well as research. She conducted her thesis research in the lab of Dr. Michael Stallcup. After graduation, she returned to Saudi Arabia and worked at a research center in Riyadh for two years before securing admission to the doctoral program in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at University of Oxford in the UK. “The experience I gained working at the bench alongside PhD students and postdocs at USC and attending lab meetings and journal clubs with them was a key to my admission to Oxford,” said Farah.



Jiali Yu (MS 2015)

Jiali’s major for her bachelor’s degree at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan, China was Engineering (2013). Her interest in switching gears and pursuing research in the area of human health and medicine using molecular biological approaches drew her to the MS program affiliated with a medical school. She really liked the fact that she had a diverse group of faculty from whom she could select her thesis mentor. She completed her thesis research in the lab of Dr. Baruch Frenkel and then worked as a research technician for a year at USC. “I learnt a number of techniques such as PCR, western blotting and cell culture that were very useful. The rigorous course work required has allowed me to easily transition into the Genome Science and Technology PhD program at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville,” said Jiali. Her long term goal is to be a Principal Investigator directing her own research at a University in China and she believes that her educational and research experience in the MS program has provided a strong foundation toward this goal.


Nikhil Chopra (MS 2009)

Nikhil obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from Panjab University in Chandigarh, India (2006). He selected the MS program because of its reputation as well as that of the Cancer Center, the opportunity to gain extensive hands-on research experience and the “sunny” weather in Los Angeles! He conducted his thesis research in the lab of Dr. Ite Laird-Offringa. An internship at Life Technologies in San Diego opened the door to employment at two different start-up ventures developing sequencing technologies after graduation. Nikhil is currently working at Natera, a genetic testing company in the San Francisco Bay area. “Knowledge about biotechnology gained during my undergraduate education was mostly theoretical. The advanced education and research experience I gained at USC are the main reason I have had various opportunities in the private sector,” said Nikhil.