Khayla McClinton (M.I.S. ’21) has a thriving research career as a clinical trials associate at Seattle-based Sana Biotechnology and gives back to Georgia State students through her mentoring program.
By LaTina Emerson
As a master’s student, Khayla McClinton was laser-focused on fulfilling her dream of becoming a biomedical researcher, diligently seeking out research opportunities in the Atlanta area and across the United States.
Her hard work paid off, and she has landed a job as a clinical trials associate at Seattle-based, Sana Biotechnology, where she supports the research team on an upcoming clinical trial focused on cancer research. She lives in the Atlanta area and travels for work when needed.
To solve the underlying causes of disease, Sana Biotechnology is creating engineered cells to repair and control genes or replace missing or damaged cells.
“I enjoy the difference in perspective surrounding the drug development process and being able to apply what I’ve learned in my past roles to new technologies,” McClinton said. “I also enjoy learning about new therapeutic areas. This is my first time applying my skills to oncology.”
A 2021 graduate of the Biomedical Science and Enterprise master’s program in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences, McClinton is the first in her family to attend college. She’s also the first in her family to pursue a science, medicine or research career.
The master’s program allowed her to tailor her coursework to her research interests so she could gain valuable lab experience. In the Institute for Biomedical Sciences, she worked on research to develop a universal flu vaccine. She also worked on a research study at Emory University School of Medicine to prevent serious falls in elderly adults.
During a prestigious summer research internship at Chan Zuckerberg Biohub in San Francisco, she assisted with projects related to data science, biomedical research and biomedical engineering.
“Being in all these spaces gave various views of working in research and all the different roles you could work in,” McClinton said. “They also gave me skills that have allowed me to be well rounded and malleable in my roles.”
In the master’s program, she also learned the business behind pharmaceutical development and how the law works in the biotech industry. After graduation, she landed her first research job as a clinical research associate, which offered helpful insight for her current role.
Despite her busy work schedule, McClinton makes time to give back to students through her nonprofit organization, McClinton Scholars, which offers mentorship to underrepresented undergraduate students in the Atlanta area. Most of the students in the last two cohorts have been students from the Institute for Biomedical Sciences. In May, she held a presentation day and end-of-cohort celebration at Georgia State where 13 scholars presented on a wide range of biomedical science research topics and received valuable feedback.
“We’ve been able to have guest speakers, host workshops, have group outing activities and more,” McClinton said. “It’s been really fun working with the students and the mentors and seeing the growth. I can see us making an impact, so I’m hoping to grow and involve more of the community.”
She said the program can now accommodate a cohort of 15 students twice a year.
Her advice to current students and recent graduates is to make sure their professors know them and follow up with anyone who is in a space they want to be in.
“People are willing to help if you reach out and they can see you are truly making the effort,” McClinton said. “I would also suggest finding a community of people who are interested in similar spaces as you. Connections are everything when you’re trying to learn. Also, be adaptable. For instance, you may not want to work in a neurology lab, but if that is all you have, do it and figure out how the skills you’ve learned can be transferable. You can transfer skills and apply knowledge.”
McClinton hopes to continue advancing her career in the biotech industry and potentially become a professor.