University-Industry Engagement Week

UCSF’s industry-based PhD program offers new model, draws some criticism

By David Schwartz
Published: September 20th, 2022

A detailed article on UCSF’s partnership with Altos Labs for an experiential doctorate program based on-site at Altos appears in the September issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here.

It is not unusual at all for students in life science PhD programs to participate in “experiential learning” with industry partners. However, a new program just unveiled by UCSF will go a step farther — participating students may spend the majority of their time at biotech start-up Altos Labs.

So far, two students have enrolled in the program. Participants will complete their coursework at UCSF, but if they choose to work with Altos they will basically be based at the company for the remainder of their doctorate.

“This was an appealing option for both faculty and students, and we worked closely with Altos and internally to develop a program that would meet UCSF standards for our graduate programs, while also providing this unique experience,” says Sam Hawgood, UCSF chancellor. “From the UCSF perspective, we wanted to offer an option for our students to understand the world of science outside academia, while still having the support of their graduate program. This gives them an opportunity to explore options that haven’t been available before, so they can understand their full range of choices after they finish their degree.”

Hawgood points out that last year, the University of California Board of Regents issued the 2021 Report on Innovation and Entrepreneurship that specifically mentioned the need to expand options for graduate students. “The Altos program is unique to UCSF, but it’s part of the ongoing discussion of how we evolve our academic programs to meet the changing opportunities available,” he says.

Hawgood notes that traditional graduate programs only show students how science is conducted inside a university. “We’re seeing new models emerging in graduate-level science education, and we think it’s important that UCSF be a part of that,” he asserts.

Graduate students who are interested in this opportunity, says Hawgood, can choose Altos as one of their options during their lab rotations. “If both the Altos PI and the student think this is the right fit, the student will work and train at Altos,” he explains. “They will be UCSF employees, with the same benefits as other graduate students. Altos will provide an annual sum to UCSF to support the tuition, fees, and stipend paid for student living experiences, as well as other educational and student support costs.”

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