New Undergraduate Fellowship at Rutgers–Camden Increases Access for Students Pursuing Biomedical Research Careers

By Jeanne Leong, August 1, 2019

A comprehensive program to prepare biology students from underrepresented backgrounds to succeed in high-caliber graduate training to earn a Ph.D. or a dual-degree M.D./Ph.D. has debuted at Rutgers University–Camden.

Kwangwon Lee and student Harjit Khaira

The new Maximizing Access to Research Careers – Undergraduate Student Training for Academic Research program (MARC U*STAR) at Rutgers–Camden is paving the way for students to succeed in the biomedical sciences by providing tuition assistance, research experience, and a monthly stipend to do research in labs during their junior and senior years.

Funded by a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the MARC U*STAR program at Rutgers–Camden partners students with faculty mentors who work support and encourage them to pursue a Ph.D. or a dual-degree M.D./Ph.D.

Rutgers–Camden is the only university offering the program in New Jersey and the Philadelphia region.

Professor Nathan Fried with student Shariq Khan

“To become successful in science, it is sort of a stumble-in-the-dark process,” says Nathan Fried, assistant director of the Rutgers–Camden MARC program and an assistant teaching professor of biology. “What we’re going to be doing with the students is turning on the lights, to guide them into knowing what is the step-by-step process, what the milestones are that they have to achieve to be able to get into the best graduate programs in the country, and then to become successful scientists.”

This summer, the four students in the first cohort of the MARC program began conducting research in the labs of their Rutgers–Camden faculty mentors.

“It’s been one of my biggest goals in life to pursue a Ph.D.,” says Harjit Khaira, of Florence, N.J. “And the MARC program helps me get there by preparing me for that.”

Khaira is conducting research in Lee’s lab to understand how complex circadian rhythm behavior is controlled at the molecular level.

Marién Torregrosa

For the past six years, faculty member Kwangwon Lee has worked with other faculty and campus leaders to provide more experiential learning opportunities for Rutgers–Camden students. The MARC program will help students access important research opportunities to make them competitive when applying to graduate school.

“These programs actually come out of my own experience,” says Lee, director of the Rutgers–Camden MARC U*STAR program and an associate professor of biology. “When I was an undergrad, I wanted to have hands-on experience in the lab, but my research activity was very limited. I would come to the lab and I would do dishwashing and watch grad students doing experiments.”

Through a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania, the Rutgers–Camden MARC fellows will have the opportunity to work and learn in labs at the campus in Philadelphia and expand their support network.

Shariq Khan, a Rutgers–Camden rising junior, hopes to become a doctor. The MARC program’s stipend for working in Fried’s lab, where he’s studying sleep deprivation in fruit flies, will ease the load on his family. In the fall, Khan will join the lab of Marién Torregrosa, a new assistant professor of biology.

For several years, Khan and his sisters attended Rutgers–Camden at the same time. “As far as tuition and housing, our family was on a short rope,” says Khan, of Atlantic City. “A lot of our family income was going towards tuition.”

Thanks to the MARC program, Anna Liang now has more time to devote to conducting research. She was working at a pizza restaurant near her home in Cherry Hill, but now she is studying ways to introduce a new insight to develop a new therapy to treat hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism through her research in the lab of Joseph Martin, a biology professor at Rutgers–Camden.

“I really like the mentorship because I have Dr. Martin,” says Liang. “But now I also have Dr. Lee and Dr. Fried, who I can go to if I have any problems or if I feel uncomfortable with a technique in my lab.” Liang plans to pursue a career in cancer research.

MARC fellow Will Myers is working in his mentor Eric Klein’s lab conducting microbiological research. “Studying the interactions between bacteria and viruses is very important because certain diseases, human related diseases that are caused by bacteria could potentially be treated by infecting those bacteria with viruses. That would kill the bacteria, and thus stop the disease,” says Myers. For the Cinnaminson resident, conducting research with Klein, an assistant professor of biology, is not just a job. It’s also a passion. He plans to pursue a career in microbiological research.

“The experience that I am having right now directly will help me in my future career,” he says. “I think it’s important for anyone involved in the sciences to get involved in research as soon as possible, for as long as they can. It looks great on your resume, and it helps you think a lot more critically, and learn more about problem solving.”

Rutgers University–Camden biology students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. in the biomedical field can apply for the MARC program in the spring semester of their sophomore year to participate in the two-year program. Students can apply to the program at