ITMAT FIRST: A Mentored 3-week Summer Translational Research Experience


This 3-week summer research experience includes broad exposure to clinical and translational research. This year's program will run from June 10-28, 2024. The goal of the program is to create an understanding on how a biomedical research laboratory operates, how hypotheses are formed, experimentally addressed, analyzed and interpreted. FIRST students will work with mentors in the lab, experienced postdoctoral researchers, to learn concrete experimental tools, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and to become immersed in the mentor’s research project. Students from Dublin, Ireland and Philadelphia will participate upon invitation only. The mentored summer research experience includes a didactic curriculum with research seminars, lab experience, and student presentations. Students receive one-one-on advising from their mentor(s) through ITMAT. FIRST students are expected to work 40 hours per week in the FitzGerald Research Lab and participate in the entire program experience.

FIRST Curriculum

Each week FIRST students dedicate several hours to participate in a curriculum that highlights methodologies in translational research and student presentations where they share their research in progress. The program will introduce FIRST students to various areas in translational research (pharmacology, genetics, bioinformatics, clinical research). The 3-week summer research experience culminates with a final symposium which involves each student presenting their project by covering research hypothesis, experimental data collection, data analysis and interpretation. Their research mentors, members of their lab, and faculty from their home institutions are encouraged to attend the FIRST Symposium.

FIRST Eligibility Criteria

  • Currently attend a partnering institution.
  • Demonstrate an interest and potential to pursue a career in the clinical or translational sciences.
  • Commit to attending and participating in the immersion experience.
  • The program is open to students from Alexandra College (Dublin), Belvedere College (Dublin), and Friends Select (Philadelphia).

We believe that a diverse clinical and translational science workforce will enable better science. Diverse teams of scientists bring an important range of experiences and perspectives that propel the collective potential for innovation. Thus, we seek to draw students from diverse backgrounds, including diversity of race, ethnicity, work and life experiences, interests, culture, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and those with disabilities.



Kayla Barekat, Ph.D., Postdoc Researcher

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, I obtained my BS in biological sciences at the University of California Irvine, where my interest in pharmacology and translational research began. I then trained as a graduate student in the FitzGerald Lab and am currently pursuing a continuation of my PhD thesis work as a postdoctoral researcher here. My project focuses on prostaglandin-independent mechanisms of gastrointestinal injury associated with chronic use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, with the ultimate goal of developing safer drugs for the management of pain and inflammation.

In my spare time, I enjoy distance running, world travel, and functional art.

Ujjalkumar Subhash Das, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Researcher  

I am an early career researcher recently joined in FitzGerald Lab as a Postdoctoral Researcher, after completing PhD in Pharmacology from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India. I am currently using Mass Spectrometry to investigate the biological role of low abundance lipids and proteomic perturbations in chronobiology. During my master's degree, I became fascinated by this technique, which has evolved into a gold standard method in the field of bioanalysis. I am much more excited to work in the FitzGerald Lab on understanding how processed diets affect metabolism using mass spectrometry.

When I get free time, you can find me playing cricket with leather ball or spare some time talking to my kids back to my home country.

Liz Hennessy, Ph.D., Research Associate

I am passionate about all things RNA! I am working to understand the transcriptome and why so much of our genome is transcribed into RNA but not translated into proteins, we call these non-coding RNAs. RNA has so much therapeutic potential (COVID vaccines!) and I want to unlock that. I grew up in the suburbs outside of Philly and went to Temple University (go Owls) for undergrad. I traveled over to Dublin, Ireland where I studied to get my PhD in biochemistry and immunology. I then moved to NYC to do post-doctoral training at NYU Medical Center. I am now a senior research investigator in the FitzGerald Lab.

Outside of the lab I like to listen to live music, go down the shore to Wildwood and go on walks with my dog Speedy.

Robin Joshi, Ph.D., Senior Research Investigator

I hold a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry and a M.Sc. in Chemistry, with experience at CSIR-IHBT, India and currently working in The Fitzgerald Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in advanced analytical techniques and spatial proteomics. I am passionate about metabolomics and lipidomics using mass spectrometery to unraveling biomarkers, or exploring the chemical composition, all of which contribute to advancing scientific understanding and applications in medicine. My current project is on exploring biological landscapes through DESI and MALDI imaging mass spectrometry in circadian cycle.

In my free time, I enjoy playing football and cricket, indulging in bike rides during rain, and immersing myself in the invigorating sounds of hard rock music. Additionally, I find inspiration in listening to motivational speakers and absorbing their insights.

Ronan Lordan, Ph.D., MA, Postdoctoral Researcher

Prior to joining the FitzGerald Lab as a postdoctoral researcher in 2020, I completed a PhD in the area of lipid biology and antiplatelet agents at the University Of Limerick, Ireland, where I also completed a Masters in teaching, learning, and scholarship. I currently research the circadian biology of metabolism and aging with the FitzGerald Lab. I am particularly interested in how circadian misalignment affects our health and how factors such as nutrition, exercise, and therapeutics may affect the functions of our circadian clocks.

I am an avid fan of Munster and Irish rugby. In my free time, I like to travel, play guitar, and drink a lot of tea and coffee.


Application Instructions

Please contact your institution to inquire about the application cycle. Refer to the "Contact Us" section at the bottom of this webpage. 


Non-discrimination Policy

The University of Pennsylvania values diversity and seeks talented students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds. The University of Pennsylvania does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, creed, national or ethnic origin, citizenship status, age, disability, veteran status or any other legally protected class status in the administration of its admissions, financial aid, educational or athletic programs, or other University-administered programs or in its employment practices.

Questions or complaints regarding this policy should be directed to the Executive Director of the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs, Franklin Building, Suite 421, 3451 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6205; or (215) 898-6993. 


Frequently Asked Questions

  • I am interested in applying for FIRST, but I do not attend a partner institution.
    • Applicants must be from a partner institution to apply to the program.
  • Is housing provided?
    • All Dublin participants will be provided host housing coordinated by Friends Select School. Philadelphia participants will stay at their current residence.
  • Are meal plans provided?
    • No, meal plans and food subsidies are not provided. International students are invited to join their host families in 3 meals a day.

Contact Us

For general questions related to the 3-week mentored summer research program, please contact:

Carsten Skarke, MD, Director, ITMAT FIRST

Elizabeth Hennessy, PhD, Co-Director, ITMAT FIRST

Natalie Mayer, Friends Select

The Science Department, Alexandra College

Stephen Carey, Belvedere College

Chris Singler, Friends Select

Colleen Itani, Administration, ITMAT FIRST



Summer Work for Friends Select Students in Penn Lab (2018)