Help Tobias Apply to MD-PhD

Without the support I'd been counting on, it may be impossible for me to apply to joint MD-PhD programs this summer/fall. Anything you can contribute will help me take the next steps toward reaching my goals. Below is more of my story, my qualifications, and a description of how funds from this campaign will be used. I'm happy to answer any questions you have.


About Me:

I was born and raised in South Carolina, and tragically experienced the death of my mother in 2007, when I was 12 years old. Inspired by her career as an intensive care nurse at our local hospital in Anderson, SC I have worked for the past several years toward my goals of pursuing an MD-PhD to work in medical research as a physician-scientist. My hope is to use scientific discovery to provide the best possible care for patients while taking advantage of clinical insights to guide my research.

I held 3+ jobs all throughout college in order to pay the excess tuition that couldn't be covered by scholarships or loans. My work ranged from recruitment in the Yale Admissions Office and peer advising as a counselor for First-Years (FroCo), to teaching children's swim lessons at the gym and doing manual labor for Yale Facilities. I gave tours, tutored, and bartended part-time, never returning home for the summer or studying abroad, in order to support myself through school. Outside of paid jobs, I tried to be an advocate for low-income students as part of a student advising group for Financial Aid, helped start a student biotech venture that provided research and entrepreneurship experiences to up-and-coming innovators, and even had some fun planning Yale's annual music festival, Spring Fling (shout out to Janelle Monàe.

Through it all, I had relied on the fact that funds left to my sisters and I following our mom's death would be disbursed to us, on a schedule agreed upon by the relative in charge of them. However, during my senior year that relative also died, and their surviving family members have no intention of continuing to honor the agreement. When I return to SC I will seek legal assistance to recover my mother's life-insurance policy to support myself, my older sister (24) and my younger sister (11). I don’t know what it will cost, how long it will take, or how much hope there is of having my mother’s wishes honored. What I do know is, without the support I was counting on, it may be impossible for me to apply to joint MD-PhD programs this summer/fall.

It’s hard to find hope when the odds were already tough. According to admissions data, only 32 African-American students enrolled in MD-PhD programs last year (4.9% out of 646 total). Applications to the average number of schools (15), and travel to just a few (4) of them for interviews is going to cost more than $5,000. I have applied for the AAMC’s fee assistance program, but do not qualify under their strict cutoffs, and my father & stepmother aren’t able to help right now.

I’ve been so lucky throughout my life; I’ve had many opportunities, and I’ve been helped along by countless advisors, family members, mentors, and friends. My biggest fear is that all of their support will have been for nothing. It’s hard for me to ask for help, but as a good friend told me – if I can't accept help from others now, I won’t be able to help anyone as a doctor or scientist in the future. 

If you can, consider contributing to this fundraiser to help cover the costs of the application process. Any little thing helps, and it would mean the world to me. You can think of it as a donation, or as an investment in a future physician-scientist. I’ll try to keep you updated on my progress on the many fronts mentioned above. And I can promise you now that I will never, ever, use the obstacles I’ve overcome as an excuse not to help remove barriers to access for other people. I know who I am. I know where I come from. I know what I want to do. I’ve just got to figure out how.

Right now I'm planning to apply to fully-funded Medical Scientist Training Programs (around 40 exist with full-funding for MD-PhD degrees) at roughly 15 schools. My list may change in the months to come, but right now it is mostly based on:
1) Schools with faculty mentors in with projects within my area of interest of Computational/Quantitative Biology,
2) Locations with decent public transportation / walkability, because I will not be able to purchase a car, and
3) Schools environments that are not singularly focused on biomedical science & medicine, where I can also learn from my peers' pursuit of the arts, humanities, social sciences, and other fields within STEM.

Budgeted Costs:
$569         MCAT Registration & Practice Exams
$30            AAMC Medical School Admissions Requirements 
$300         Fees & Transcripts
$681     Primary Applications (15 Schools)
$1,390     Secondary Applications (15 Schools)
$2,000     Estimated Travel Costs (only 5 interviews)
$150         Interview Attire (Shoes, and bag for transporting suit)
$5,090     Total Costs

As you can see, for an institution that claims to value diversity and inclusion, American medical schools are seriously out of reach for independent, first-generation, and/or low-income students (setting aside the implicit biases in the types of activities and accomplishments that are valued through the admissions process). Disappointingly, many MD students and faculty I've brought this up to have been unaware of the challenges students face in even getting the chance to apply. Conversations around the values and missions of academia and medicine in the U.S. will no doubt be complex, long, difficult ones. I'm ready and willing to do what I can to further them, but first I have to get there.

Here's a little more information about my educational and research background:


2017-2018 : NIH PREP Scholar at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai (Department of Pharmacological Sciences)

3.92 GPA


2013-2017 : B.S. Yale University in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (with a concentration in Quantitative Biology)

3.62 GPA

Research Interests:

Over the years I've had several research and learning experiences that have developed my interest in quantitative/computational biology research, particularly in the area of mechanistic and statistical modeling of biological systems. What I enjoy most is the process of using chemical and physical principles to derive mathematical equations that can then be used to represent biological processes on the cellular, multicellular, tissue, and even organ level.

For example, my undergraduate thesis work employed mathematical modeling to simulate and understand the effects of diversity on the collective migration of bacteria. For the past year, I've been working in a lab that uses mathematical models and computer simulation to predict the effects of therapeutic drugs on cardiac electrical activity & contraction, with the goal of improving drug safety screening to prevent sudden cardiac arrest.

In both of these projects, I had opportunities to build or improve upon the technology we used to carry out our work, whether it was designing a new way to record groups of bacteria swimming or building a web-app to facilitate collaboration between research labs and allow more effective comparison of results. 

I not only find quantitative systems-level approaches to biomedical science to be the most intellectually stimulating, but I see them as a promising way forward in progressing our understanding of human health & disease, harnessing the power of modern computation through the universal language of mathematics. As a physician, I would like to push at those frontiers, hopefully in a way that allows for specific and well-informed advances tailored to my patients - whoever they may end up being. Only time will tell, but I expect that the range of medical specialties that benefit from these approaches to research will only expand in the years between now and the end of my training.

Science aside, I'm very interested in caring for marginalized populations and treating the disorders and diseases that disproportionately affect them. I'm passionate about vigilance against "statistical discrimination" or (as I like to call it) "mathematical justice" - ensuring that bias is accounted for / reduced in data-based quantitative approaches, and that marginalized people are not excluded from or harmed by the ever-evolving algorithms we develop to advance science.

Research Awards & Honors:

- 2018: PREP Regional Symposium 1st Place Poster Presentation
- 2017: NIH PREP Scholarship at Mt. Sinai 
- 2016: Trumbull College Mellon Grant for Undergraduate Research
- 2015: Yale Science Technology and Research Scholar (STARS) Summer Research Fellow
- 2013: SC Junior Academy of Science 1st Place Oral Presentation in Physiology & Health  
- 2012: Hoffman-La Roche Research Exchange Scholarship Program (RESP) Research Internship at DKFZ in Heidelberg, Germany

Research Publications & Presentations:


- Mak, W., Fang, C., Holden, T., and Dratver, M. B. 2016. An Important Role of Pumilio 1 in Regulating the Development of the Mammalian Female Germline. Biology of Reproduction; June 2016 94 (6) 134, 1-11

- Trumbull College Mellon Forum for Undergraduate Research, Yale University, New Haven, CT  “Better Together? Diversity and Collective Migration in Escherichia coli”, April 2017
- STARS Summer Research Symposium, Yale University, New Haven, CT “Lentiviral Induction of Trophoblast Stem Cells”, July 2015
- SC Junior Academy of Science Research Conference, Benedict College, Columbia, SC  “Effects of Angiopoietin-2 Stimulation on PDGFR-B Expression in Human Brain Pericytes”, March 2013
- SCGSSM Research Colloquium, SC Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics, Hartsville, SC “Effects of Angiopoietin-2 Stimulation on PDGFR-B Expression in Human Brain Pericytes”, November 2012

- NIH PREP Regional Symposium, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY “Optimization of in silico hSC-CM Model for Preclinical Pro-Arrhythmia Assessment and an App-Based Approach to Collaborative Drug Safety Screening”, May 2018
- Yale Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology Symposium, Yale University, New Haven, CT “Diversity and Collective Migration of Escherichia coli in Semisolid Agar”, April 2017
- SCGSSM Townes Award Dinner, Downtown Marriott, Columbia, SC “Effects of Angiopoietin-2 Stimulation on PDGFR-B Expression in Human Brain Pericytes”, March 2013
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Tobias Holden 
New York, NY