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New doctoral students welcomed

Sep. 6, 2012, 9:10 AM

Susan Wente, Ph.D., right, helps Myriam Martinez during last week’s Simple Beginnings ceremony. (photo by Joe Howell)

Vanderbilt University Medical Center welcomed 109 new doctoral students into the scientific community last week in the third annual “Simple Beginnings” ceremony.

The name of the ceremony comes from the last paragraph of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” — “…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

“Our translation to you is: from so simple a beginning as graduate school, we cannot yet conceive the complexity and breadth of discoveries that will result, both in terms of your own professional development as you change throughout graduate training, and in terms of the research that you will conduct and the discoveries that you will make,” Susan Wente, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences, said to the new doctoral students.

Students from 11 Ph.D. programs were presented with personalized white lab coats by Wente and Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The largest group of new doctoral students — 66 students — entered graduate school through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (IGP), and more of these students — 70 percent compared to 60 percent last year — came from outside the Southeast.

New doctoral students were welcomed into the scientific community at last week’s ‘Simple Beginnings’ ceremony in Light Hall. (photo by Joe Howell)

“The national reputation of Vanderbilt’s graduate programs has been increasing, and our pool of students from outside our immediate region is much greater than in past years,” said Michelle Grundy, Ph.D., assistant director of Graduate Programs in Biomedical Sciences.

The IGP students hail from 26 states or territories and five different countries. Ten percent of the students come from groups underrepresented in science, and seven of the students are funded by the Vanderbilt International Scholars Program (VISP). The class has the highest percentage of females in IGP history.

“Given the increasing national concerns about a lack of females in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM disciplines), we were delightfully surprised when this year’s IGP class turned out to be 74 percent female,” said James Patton, Ph.D., director of the IGP. “One hopes that ongoing efforts to increase the number of women in leadership positions in the biomedical sciences will begin with this entering class.”

Other programs and departments welcoming doctoral students in the biosciences include: Biological Sciences (4 students), Biomedical Informatics (2), Biostatistics (5), Quantitative and Chemical Biology (10), Cell and Developmental Biology (1), Cognitive Systems Neuroscience (6), Epidemiology (6), Hearing and Speech Sciences (5), Nursing Science (3), and Pharmacology (1).

Wente challenged the entering students with four commitments: to discovery, to the scientific method and hypothesis testing, to the highest ethical standards and to hard work.

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., left, congratulates Elvis Akwo after he received his white coat from Susan Wente, Ph.D. (photo by Joe Howell)

“I contend to you that each of these four (commitments) will go with you in your profession no matter how you decide to utilize your Ph.D. degree, whether your primary role is in academics, in industry, in public service, in education, in communication, in public policy…these four commitments will continue to be a lifelong model,” she said.

Before presenting students with the white lab coats, Wente admitted that she’d gotten a little envious at the last two Simple Beginnings ceremonies. Her own lab coat was not personalized, had yellowed with age and was missing a few buttons, she said.

This year, Wente got a new white coat too.

“It’s my first one with my name on it,” she said with delight.

Faculty sponsors and the Vanderbilt Medical Alumni Association provided support for the Simple Beginnings Ceremony and lab coat gifts.

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