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For new PhD students in biosciences, lab coat ceremony marks the beginning of discovery

A new class of PhD candidates in the Stanford Biosciences received their new lab coats as part of an official welcome ceremony this week on campus.

For graduate students beginning their studies in the biosciences at Stanford, the white lab coat is a symbol of community, a mark of distinction, and a commitment to vital work. It “serves as protection from radio isotopes and ethidium bromide,” said Lila Hope, PhD, president of the Stanford Medicine Alumni Association, “but it’s also a symbol of respect for science.”

A new class of PhD candidates in the Stanford Biosciences, which spans 17 different departments and interdisciplinary programs across the university, received their new lab coats as gifts from the alumni association. The lab coats were part of an official welcome ceremony for the new students, held on campus Monday afternoon.

My story about the event features the words of welcome and encouragement to incoming students from Hope, along with Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine; Will Talbot, MD, the medical school’s senior associate dean of graduate education and postdoctoral affairs; and alumnus speaker David Bilder, who earned a PhD in developmental biology in 1997 at Stanford and is now a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

As Hope said:

It’s important to remember, as a member of the scientific community, you are the most crucial advocate, champion, safeguard and gatekeeper of truth and impartiality of your own experimental findings and scientific discoveries.

For some students, like Andy Renteria — who is the first member of his family to attend college — the event was a personal milestone, so much so that Renteria bought airplane tickets for his parents to take their first-ever plane ride from their rural hometown in Kansas to join him at the celebration. Renteria told me:

My journey to Stanford feels especially meaningful because I was able to get here despite certain disadvantages, which many students who are underrepresented in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] and grad school in general, also face. I also personally feel emotional about being here because I know my parents are proud of me and the value I placed in my education to reach this point.

...Receiving my white coat represents an inflection point of sorts, in the sense that many people contributed to my ability to get here, and I’m reaching a point where I can start to figure out how to give back so others can reach their full potential as well. I may not have my PhD yet, but I think I’m in a privileged position at Stanford to help others.

Photo by George Nikitin

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