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CTSI-RAP enters its 10th year of service excellence to UCLA Health



UCLA CTSI News Archive


Top: RAP presenters and students at the 2022 RAP Student Research Symposium on May 16. 

Students enjoy paint night at the Valentine’s Day social.

The CTSI Research Associates Program (CTSI-RAP) continues for a tenth year as an undergraduate career and professional development program within CTSI.  Led by Drs. Laurie Shaker-Irwin, Executive Director, and Noah Federman, Medical Director, a total of 160 students will have onboarded to the program by the end of 2022. 

Through a review application process, CTSI-RAP pairs UCLA undergraduate students with clinical research studies of their interest conducted by UCLA faculty. The students are excited and motivated to be members of study teams where they excel on their projects, gain valuable mentorship, and launch their careers in the health professions, often combining these careers with clinical research, data analysis, laboratory work, public health, and related fields.

Events with CTSI-RAP: Learning Opportunities and Networking

The 2021-2022 year was also filled with many new achievements. As part of their campus-wide outreach role, the Research Ambassadors student team created and launched the inaugural Innovation in Care Conference (ICC), featuring professional guest panelists and judges. The speakers included opening keynote speaker, Dr. Noah Federman (DGSOM, UCLA CTSI), and panelists Dr. Anthony Chang (CHOC, AIMed), Dr. Jennifer McCaney (Executive Director of UCLA Biodesign), and Dr. Renee Dua (Founder of Get Heal, Inc.). The esteemed speakers spoke on the future of innovation in medicine and offered detailed advice and motivation for students interested in entering the fields of healthcare and technology. The second part of the ICC was composed of a student hackathon, where UCLA undergraduates were invited to create and pitch their idea on how to improve healthcare to a panel of judges. From cloud-based medical inventory systems to automated wheelchair functions, over forty undergraduates competed in designing and presenting on their hackathon idea. Overall, the ICC served as an opportunity for CTSI-RAP to continue providing the undergraduate community with career explorations and valuable networking opportunities. 

This year, RAP Students partnered with the DGSOM Community Engagement Program Director, Gloria Moon, and her team to pilot a mentorship program with students interested in healthcare from local area high schools, called MATCH (Mentorship and Advocacy in Teaching Clinical Health-Related Research). Eighteen high school students were selected to join the program and each were matched with a CTSI-RAP student as their personal mentor. During the 10 weeks of the program, both sets of students met weekly over Zoom where presentations were made on various topics such as clinical research, ethics in healthcare, and technological advancements in medicine. The program culminated with the high school students giving their own research presentation on a topic of their choosing. Overall, the evaluations demonstrated that both the mentors and mentees learned and benefitted from the program and that they would recommend the program to a friend.  CTSI-RAP looks forward to continuing the program in the coming years. 

During the Spring Quarter, CTSI-RAP hosted an in-person Research Symposium where students were able to share their research projects with fellow RAP members as well as investigators, research faculty, and staff. The event, hosted by the Research Ambassadors, was a success. It was a fantastic opportunity for all the attendees to network and learn about the tangible impact students are able to have on their research projects while being mentored by their respective study teams.
  • RAP Poster: “Furthering Clinical Research and Fostering Innovative Thinking”, Noah Federman and Laurie Shaker-Irwin, UCLA CTSI
    Student Presenters: Omar Selim, Nicolette Simoni, Amanda Piring, Sukanya Mohapatra

  • Neurocognition and Depression Study: “Association of Gray Matter Volume with Depression, Anxiety, Apathy, and Resilience in Late-Life Depression”, Helen Lavretsky, Semel Institute/NPI
    Student Presenters: Tiffany Chen and Brandon Ton

  • Pediatric Oncology Study: “Trial in Progress: A Phase I Dose Escalation/Expansion Clinical Trial of Mocetinostat in Combination with Vinorelbine in Patients with Refractory and/or Recurrent Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS)”, Noah Federman, Pediatric Oncology
    Student Presenters: Rebecca Phelan, Omar Selim, Clara Song, Amy Kumar, and Hailey Valles

  • Pediatric Oncology Study: “Trial in Progress: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Phase 3 Trial of Nirogacestat Versus Placebo in Adult Patients with Progressing Desmoid Tumors/Aggressive Fibromatosis”, Noah Federman, Pediatric Oncology
    Student Presenters: Rebecca Phelan and Amy Kumar

  • Rheumatology Study: “Effects of Cannabidiol Use on Sleep in Patients With Moderate to Severe Rheumatoid Arthritis”, Veena K. Ranganath, Med/Rheumatology
    Student Presenter: Alice Ma

  • UC-COVID Study: “Community Perspectives Towards Scarce Resource Allocation (SRA) Policies during COVID-19: A Mixed Methods Study”, Lauren Wisk and Russell Buhr, GIM/HSR
    Student Presenter: Connie Lee
This year, RAP Students were matched with RAP alumni based on career goals and mentorship interests through our Mentoring Chairs. Most of the alumni mentors were either in the process of applying for graduate school (e.g PhD, MD, MD/PhD) or are currently attending graduate school, providing RAP students much insight towards the application process and the requirements to reach their academic career goals. The alumni members shared their prior experiences as undergraduates at UCLA and in CTSI-RAP during the regular mentorship meetings which enriched the students’ understanding of career pathways and how to take full advantage of the opportunities CTSI-RAP offers. The matched shared career interests between mentor and mentees created a supportive environment for the mentors to offer advice to students. 

Research within RAP Drives Growth Opportunities

RAP students are able to explore clinical research as a career and have the opportunity to participate in a number of studies from different departments, including cardiology, psychiatry, pediatrics, public health and oncology. Through participating in many studies spanning multiple specialties during their undergraduate years, RAP students gain exposure to varied disciplines of research and medicine.  The students are able to cultivate their passions for research, leadership roles, and networking with clinical research professionals. Their experience is enriched by the addition of both quantitative and qualitative elements to their research toolkit and to a career skill set that will last a lifetime.

In addition to hosting conferences, RAP students are presenters at local, regional, and even some national conferences. Research associates are encouraged to submit abstracts to conferences and speak to large audiences of distinguished doctors and researchers. Some students even participated in more than one of these poster presentations. Most notably, every year, CTSI-RAP members attend and present at UCLA’s Undergraduate Research Week (URW). For 2022, despite the challenges with the pandemic, RAP still showcased 6 different presentations. In addition to URW, 2022 featured attendance to 2 national conferences by RAP members: Society of General Internal Medicine in Lake Buena Vista, Florida and Academy Health Research Conference in Washington DC.  

Research within RAP also expands beyond conferences as the program encourages students to involve themselves in the manuscript writing process and publications. CTSI-RAP has a number of alumni working in many fields, including medicine, research, public health, and/or public service. With the success of the program and the support of the CTSI, RAP has tripled in size since its inception in 2013.  CTSI-RAP leadership and students are excited to continue the success of the program into the next decade. 

Opportunities with CTSI-RAP
If you would like assistance with your studies, please send an e-mail to Dr. Laurie Shaker-Irwin at LShakerIrwin@mednet.ucla.edu

Authors include CTSI-RAP students Tiffany Chen, Omar Selim, Sabrina Ghalambor, Guadalupe Gonzalez, Yuri Lin, Sukanya Mohapatra and Kaitlyn Smolens and CTSI-RAP Advisor, Dr. Laurie Shaker-Irwin.