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1. What is the CIRM COMPASS program?

COMPASS = Creating Opportunities through Mentorship and Partnerships Across Stem Cell Science

COMPASS is funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to support and train an annual cohort of eight (8) early-stage Biology majors in project research. 

Candidate students for COMPASS do not need to have their careers mapped out or planned.  COMPASS will train students in the process of discovery, laboratory research, and collaborative team science.  Students will develop laboratory skills, research instincts, and awareness of numerous needs across the network of disease research and patient care.  Through mentorship and networking, students will be supported and prepared to use their experiences to enter careers in disease research, regenerative medicine, biotech and industry.

Because COMPASS is looking to support and train early-stage Biology majors, candidates will be recruited from the BIOL 2010-2020 Principles of Biology I & II year-long sequence for majors.  Student performance in the laboratory component of Principles of Biology will be observed and weighed heavily in selecting students to participate in COMPASS.

Stipend and tuition support for COMPASS trainees totals more than $50,000 during the two years of program participation.

2. What is laboratory project research like?

Project research is considered the gold standard in education and training to prepare students for careers in nearly all post-graduate career paths, including medicine, graduate studies, professional school, and industry and government careers.

Unlike instructional laboratory classes where instructions and protocols are provided and all required lab materials are prepared when you arrive, a research training project would match you with a research topic and teach you how to design, set up, execute, and interpret your own experiments.

Project research can be sustained over months and years, as each answer to an experimental question raises another question, which requires designing another experiment.  A series of experiments leads to a scientific story that you can present to an audience. 

Project research requires consistent time commitments outside and on top of your typical academic class schedule.  COMPASS offers a monthly stipend ($1000/month during the academic year) and other financial support to make it easier for students to commit their time to research projects.

While project research requires you to develop independence, you are not alone.  Research laboratories are team environments with a faculty mentor and other student researcher peers.  Good research labs are social, supportive, cooperative environments.

3. Where would I do my research training and projects?

Your first two years in COMPASS will include training with a CSUSB faculty mentor in a research lab on the CSUSB campus.

In the summer months concluding your COMPASS training, you will be paired with a new faculty mentor and a stem cell-focused research lab at one of our institutional partners away from the CSUSB campus.

4. What kinds of interests and career goals would be a good fit in COMPASS?  

COMPASS is a training program designed for students with interests in:

  • Cellular, health, and disease-related research
  • Medicine, particularly Regenerative Medicine
  • Biotechnology and industry
  • Cells, genetics, genomics, molecular biology, and developmental biology

Students do not need to have their career paths completely mapped out before applying to COMPASS.  It is OK to still be learning your options and figuring out your future plans. 

5. Am I eligible for CIRM COMPASS?

If you are a Biology or Biochemistry major taking BIOL 2010 or BIOL 2020 as you read this, you are probably eligible for COMPASS.

Biology majors are eligible for consideration for COMPASS at the end of the academic year in which they complete BIOL 2020 General Biology II for majors.  It does not matter whether a student completes BIOL 2020 in the Fall or Spring terms; applications and candidate selections will occur at the end of Spring.

COMPASS candidates must also have completed General Chemistry I and II for majors (CHEM 2100 and 2200) with grades of C or better.

If you are a Biochemistry major taking BIOL 2010 or BIOL 2020, you should also be eligible for COMPASS.  However, you should anticipate that COMPASS-required upper-division Biology classes will exceed the Biology units required as part of earning your Biochemistry degree.  You could reliably anticipate that in addition to your Biochemistry B.S., you would earn both a Minor in Biology and a Certificate in Biotechnology.

6. Do I need to meet a GPA requirement to be eligible for CIRM COMPASS?

There is no minimum GPA requirement for a student to be eligible for inclusion in COMPASS.  Students much have received grades of C or better in BIOL 2020, CHEM 2100 and CHEM 2200.

To be clear, selection of candidates to join COMPASS will be competitive, but overall GPA is not emphasized in candidate selection. 

7. What kind of classes do I need to have completed before joining COMPASS?

  • BIOL 2010 and 2020 with grades of C or better in each
  • CHEM 2100 and 2200 with grades of C or better in each

While it is not required to have completed a semester of Organic Chemistry (CHEM 2300 or 2400) before joining COMPASS, it is highly recommended.  Accepted COMPASS students who have not yet completed a semester of Organic Chemistry will be required to take either CHEM 2300 or 2400 ASAP upon joining COMPASS.

8. What can I do to improve my chances of getting into the COMPASS program?  What is the program looking for in candidates?

COMPASS is looking for students who enjoy science, discovery, experiments, team work, and who show potential for training in project research. 

COMPASS is also hoping to recruit students with a variety of different perspectives, backgrounds, talents, and personal and professional goals.

Doing good work in the General Biology laboratory experience is very important to the COMPASS selection process.  COMPASS is looking for several things beyond students just earning a good grade in lab.

We are looking for students who…

  • …show their skills and abilities in a practical setting;
  • …work well in teams and show that they like to collaborate;
  • …show resilience and resourcefulness when faced with lab challenges;
  • …adapt and improve when faced with challenges and when given feedback;
  • …show curiosity and scientific imagination; and
  • …are thoughtful and demonstrate critical thinking when preparing experiments and scrutinizing results.

And please don’t be shy.  Please give us a chance to get to know you.

9. What kind of stipend and tuition support are offered by the program?

• Monthly stipend of $1000 during academic year (and higher stipend during summer months)

• Substantial tuition support to apply to both the academic year and summer terms

10. What classes will be offered and required if I join COMPASS?

COMPASS students will essentially have a required class to take in each of their four (4) semesters in the program:

  • BIOL 3100 Cell Biology lecture/lab (lab emphasizes mammalian cell culture)
  • BIOL 3130 Stem Cells lecture
  • BIOL 4400 Developmental Biology lecture/lab
  • BIOL 5130 Animal Tissue Culture lecture/lab (lab emphasizes primary cell culture)
  • BIOL 5160 Introduction to Regulatory Affairs in the Life Sciences lecture (includes Bioethics)

COMPASS students will also be required in the first Summer term to take a laboratory course to introduce them to laboratory research and project best practices.

As part of their project research with a faculty mentor, students will enroll in BIOL 3962 Directed study or BIOL 5952 [MC6] [MC7] [MC8] [DN9] each semester, earning elective units toward the Biology degree.

11. Will COMPASS slow down my time to graduation? 

Probably not.  In fact, COMPASS is more likely to slightly accelerate your pace to completing your Biology major.

You will receive course credits for your project research activities, which will count toward your required 29 units of upper-division elective units in the Biology degree. COMPASS also provides tuition support for some summer classes, which will include upper-division Biology units.

Conducting project research in the COMPASS program will also qualify you for departmental honors when you graduate.

12. What is the Certificate in Biotechnology? 

Certain classes in the Biology and Biochemistry programs fit together to represent training that prepares you for careers in the Biotechnology industry:  DNA engineering, cell and tissue culture, recombinant protein expression and purification, microbiology and genomics.

As part of your COMPASS training, your required classes would earn you a Certificate in Biotechnology on your way to earning your B.S. in Biology.

13. How would I be paired with a research mentor at CSUSB?

In the summer after you are accepted to COMPASS, students will have several opportunities to meet potential faculty mentors, including social activities and one-on-one discussions.  Based on your expressed interests, feedback, and preferences, we will pair you with a research mentor.

14. How do I apply for COMPASS?

If you are a Biology major currently taking BIOL 2010 or BIOL 2020, you have essentially already begun the application…

All students in BIOL 2010 and 2020 begin in the COMPASS candidate pool and are invited to apply.  Students in BIOL 2010 and BIOL 2020 laboratories will be observed by their laboratory instructors as a key part of the recruitment and application process.

Near the end of the BIOL 2020 laboratory experience, all students will be given a short survey in which they can provide some details of their scientific and career interests, favorite and least favorite experiences in lab, and express whether they would like to be considered for inclusion in COMPASS.  The survey acts as a first application.

15. What is the COMPASS selection process like?  Typical planned timeline?

There are six (6) major steps in COMPASS recruitment and selection:

Student participation in BIOL 2010 & 2020 laboratories

Observation, training, and evaluation by laboratory instructors

A first application (short survey) by the student expressing interest in consideration for COMPASS, providing some personal narrative of scientific and career interests (end of BIOL 2020 lab experience)

Selection of semi-finalists by the COMPASS leadership team based on student application and instructor evaluations (May/June)

Invitations to interview with the leadership team (early June)

Selection of eight COMPASS trainees (mid-June)

16. How and where would I be placed for my off-campus stem cell research internship?

Off-campus internships are hosted at our partner institutions, including Loma Linda University Medical School, City of Hope Beckman Research Institute, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Students will be placed for their off-campus summer internships by expressions of mutual interest by the student and the off-campus mentor.  Students will read about the research projects available, ranking their preferences, and we will match students with a lab based on preferences.

17. Is COMPASS training entirely focused on stem cells?

Not entirely.  While COMPASS students will all receive training in tissue culture, stem cells, and more, COMPASS supports a number of research avenues related to regenerative medicine and biotechnology. 

For examples, microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetic engineering, and genomics are all project areas that you can pursue in your CSUSB research training.

18. Who might my CSUSB faculty mentor be?

We have several CSUSB faculty members ready to serve as mentors for COMPASS students. 

  • Nicole Bournias-Vardiabasis: Developmental genetics, aging, stem cells of invertebrates
  • Jason Burke: Biochemistry, protein structure, cancer signaling
  • Mike Chao: Cell & molecular biology, genetics, neuronal signaling (not available for 2023 due to sabbatical)
  • Jeremy Dodsworth: Microbiology & genomics
  • Joseph Heras: Genomics & physiology
  • Yu Jung Kim: Biochemistry, innate immunity receptor signaling
  • Lua Lopez-Perez: Genomics, evolutionary biology
  • Jeremy Mallari: Chemistry, small molecule synthesis, anti-malarial drug devo
  • Laura Newcomb: Virology, cell & molecular biology
  • Dan Nickerson: Cell & molecular biology, cell signaling, organelles
  • David Rhoads: Cell & molecular biology, mitochondrial signaling, genomics
  • Anna Zelaya: Microbiology & genomics