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Promise of discovery drives Biomedical Sciences graduates

May. 19, 2016, 8:38 AM

Kendra Vann, Ph.D., earned her degree in Biochemistry working with Neil Osheroff, Ph.D. (photo by Daniel Dubois)
Kendra Vann, Ph.D., earned her degree in Biochemistry working with Neil Osheroff, Ph.D. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

In a twist on the usual research narrative, Justin Siemann, Ph.D., who celebrated his doctoral degree in Neuroscience at last week’s Graduate School Commencement, conducted research on patients first, and then moved to the laboratory bench.

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., adjusts the doctoral hood of Clayton Marshall, Ph.D., who earned his degree in Biochemistry. (photo by Daniel Dubois)
Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., adjusts the doctoral hood of Clayton Marshall, Ph.D., who earned his degree in Biochemistry. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

This “bedside-to-bench” approach — the opposite direction compared to many biomedical research projects — revealed that individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have altered multisensory processing: their perception of auditory and visual information is out of sync. Siemann then developed a multisensory behavioral task for mice, making it possible to study mouse models and the molecular pathways that underlie altered information processing in ASD.

Siemann was among 68 students who earned doctoral degrees in the biomedical sciences from Vanderbilt during the 2015-2016 academic year.

The group, which came to Vanderbilt with undergraduate degrees from 67 different colleges and universities around the world, is highly accomplished, according to Abigail Brown, Ph.D., director of Outcomes Research in the Office of Biomedical Research Education and Training (BRET).

Meghan Joly, Ph.D. (Cancer Biology), right, shares a laugh with fellow student Rebecca Klar, Ph.D. (Pharmacology), before the Graduate School Commencement. (photo by Daniel Dubois)
Meghan Joly, Ph.D. (Cancer Biology), right, shares a laugh with fellow student Rebecca Klar, Ph.D. (Pharmacology), before the Graduate School Commencement. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

Every student was the first author on at least one paper, and more than half of the students published two or more first-author papers.

On average, graduating students published 4.7 papers as a result of their graduate work at Vanderbilt, Brown said. Their research appeared in high-impact journals including Science, Cell and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Half of the students made presentations at national or international meetings, and 38 percent of the group had independent external fellowship funding, Brown said.

Most of the newly minted Ph.D. graduates — 69 percent — are continuing their training with postdoctoral fellowships, Brown added. These include traditional positions in academic research laboratories as well as non-traditional industry, government and clinical fellowships. The remaining 31 percent have accepted or are in negotiations for positions that do not require a prior postdoctoral fellowship.

Ryan Craven, Ph.D. (Microbiology and Immunology), left, and Justin Siemann, Ph.D. (Neuroscience), chat before the Graduate School ceremony. (photo by Daniel Dubois)
Ryan Craven, Ph.D. (Microbiology and Immunology), left, and Justin Siemann, Ph.D. (Neuroscience), chat before the Graduate School ceremony. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

In his address to the graduates, Mark Wallace, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School, said that in reading through the dissertation titles, he was struck by the “diversity of thought, the diversity of approaches and the diversity of ideas represented by the research conducted by the group.”

Noting the increasing polarization in society, Wallace urged the graduates to take their experiences at Vanderbilt out into the world as “ambassadors for diversity and tolerance.”

Although Elizabeth Ennis, Ph.D. in Pharmacology, is eager to embrace Wallace’s charge as she moves on to a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco, she was a bit wistful.

“My experience at Vanderbilt has been rich,” she said. “As the president of the pharmacology graduate association for two years, I had the opportunity to get to know the faculty and student body very well. The department has been a wonderful home that I am sad to leave.”

Tyler McCann, Ph.D. (Cell and Developmental Biology), right, with his mentor, William Tansey, Ph.D. (photo by Daniel Dubois)
Tyler McCann, Ph.D. (Cell and Developmental Biology), right, with his mentor, William Tansey, Ph.D. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

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