UCI PhD Candidates Take Action to Mentor and Support Fellow Students

PhD mentors

If anyone could understand a student’s challenges, triumphs, and quest for excellence, it’s other students.

Alexandra Rogers, Brandon Latifi and Chelsea Marie T. Parrocha had that exact idea in mind when they founded the first Pharmaceutical Sciences Mentor Program at the UCI School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences.   

As PhD candidates themselves, they thought about what they can do to ensure student success in their department.

“We all entered the program as first year PhD graduate students from the same cohort,” Parrocha said. “With the continuing growth of the graduate program and School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, we decided that we wanted to create a graduate student community among us to really strengthen our relationships and support with each other.”

The three founders decided to take action and develop a program that encourages discussions on how to navigate situations to help optimize each student’s individual success. The Pharmaceutical Sciences Mentor Program is a student-led initiative aimed to develop an inclusive and supportive environment for first-year students. Program mentors range from second- to fifth-year PhD candidates, while mentees are incoming first-year candidates. 

So far, the program has achieved three significant outcomes:

  • Created a structured setting where students can develop skills necessary for achieving program milestones.
  • Increased matriculation by providing graduate students with the necessary resources to thrive and succeed in the PhD program.
  • Created an environment in which graduate students can receive helpful guidance and mentorship from senior graduate student mentors.

Mentors are tasked with being an active listener and a supporting ear for each mentee they engage with. In addition, each mentor brings a unique perspective and guidance to their mentee, relating to their personal experiences. The pair meet a minimum of twice a quarter and more frequently when needed. In order to continue the progression of the program, at the end of the year, each mentor evaluates the initiative from top to bottom. This is a chance to act and speak up on things that arose during their time as a mentor to make next year an even bigger success.

Mentees are tasked to just be active – to share when they feel comfortable and to speak up when things get difficult. The program was designed to help with the transition to graduate school. As for most mentees, this is their first time in a program of this magnitude. Mentors help bridge the gap and pass on their learnings and tips.

“Our main goal for the program is to create an inclusive environment where we ensure everyone has the correct support and guidance to succeed within the program. We aim at getting mentors who are invested in helping the students,” Latifi said. “A lot of the time you can sign up for something and not fully follow through, however, with this program we strive to play a key role in the success of each student. This can include getting feedback on setting up rotations, advice on navigating graduate school or creating a work/life balance. As a program, we are constantly improving and striving to become better for the future incoming graduate students.”

The program has plans to continue long after the founders complete their program and have sought out further advisors and support to continue their efforts. To learn more about the program please visit:


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